TikTok to provide researchers with more transparency as damaging reports mount

TikTok is making it easier for researchers to delve into the data and protocols that make up the platform. In a blog post, TikTok COO Vanessa Pappas announced the company will soon grant researchers access to the framework behind the platform and its moderation system.

Pappas says TikTok will soon provide access to the “public and anonymized data” on the platform so “selected researchers” can “assess content and trends or conducts tests.” The company will also give researchers a way to probe its existing moderation system, evaluate the content on TikTok, and experiment with different types of content to see what gets rejected. Later this year, researchers will have access to TikTok’s moderation tools at its transparency center, a virtual hub where people can learn more about TikTok’s policies and get updates about the changes it’s making.

Pappas says that experts on TikTok’s advisory councils will also gain access to TikTok’s moderation tools and will get to view TikTok’s confidential keyword list that it uses to flag content that’s not allowed on the platform. TikTok’s planning to provide more transparency surrounding its efforts to tackle “covert influence operations” as well, which it says it will publish in its community guidelines enforcement reports.

The push for more transparency likely comes as a way to offset recent reports that undermine its efforts to prove that it’s not a national security threat due to its connection to China, where TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is based. This is an accusation former President Donald Trump along with other politicians flung at the company over concerns it could be siphoning American data to China.

Just hours before TikTok’s announcement, Gizmodo released a report that reveals the great lengths TikTok goes to distance itself from China. That allegedly includes canned responses for TikTok’s public relations employees to use when faced with questions about the platform’s safety and its relationship with China.

On Tuesday, BuzzFeed News published a report that alleges that ByteDance used the now-discontinued TopBuzz news app as a way to plant pro-China messages to alter Americans’ perception of the Chinese Communist Party. ByteDance has since denied these claims. On top of that, another recent report from BuzzFeed News claims that TikTok’s employees in China “repeatedly” accessed US user data for at least several months.

TikTok is facing increasing pressure from politicians amid these allegations. Last month, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr called for Google and Apple to remove TikTok from their app stores. TikTok responded by assuring lawmakers that it will keep American user data away from China and highlighted its recent partnership with Oracle to store Americans’ data on US-based servers.

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