June 24, 2021

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TikTok Launches PR Effort – Sorry, Transparency Center

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TikTok is opening a new European Transparency and Accountability Centre in Ireland, modeled on the US unit it launched last summer.

The aim appears to be to show the public that the company – owned by China’s ByteDance – has nothing to hide.

“With more than 100 million people across Europe active on TikTok every month, our teams are focused on maintaining their trust and the trust of policymakers and the broader public,” says Cormac Keenan, head of trust and safety.

“One important part of this is helping people to better understand our work. And we believe that being open about what’s happening behind the scenes is crucial to this.”

Right now, thanks to the pandemic, the centre can only offer virtual tours. However, the longer-term plan is to allow ‘experts’ to visit and observe the company’s safety, data and privacy practices.

This includes seing how content review teams make decisions on content based on the company’s Community Guidelines, and how this work is supplemented by human reviews and technical tools.

According to Keenan, the centre will welcome ‘candid’ feedback. “No system, policy, or practice is flawless, and we are committed to constant improvement,” he says.

“For example, following meetings with epilepsy experts last year, we listened to feedback and used it to introduce a series of new features to help protect people from photosensitive content.”

TikTok has steadily been increasing its presence in Ireland, with a new data center planned for 2022 and more than 1,000 new staff hired over the last year.

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At the same time, however, it’s faced repeated criticism over its safety measures, and in particular how it safeguards children – from ‘blackout challenges’ to the finding by UK regulator Ofcom that many users of the site are below the official minimum age of 13.

TikTok is also under persistent scrutiny in Europe and the US over data privacy issues. Last week, for example, a class action lawsuit was filed against the company in the UK alleging that it illegally harvested data belonging to millions of European children.

Meanwhile, the Irish Data Protection Commissioner is currently investigating whether the app might be sharing user data with China – also a matter of concern in the US.

Unfortulately for TikTok, it seems unlikely that allowing visitors to chat to content moderators will make these issues go away.

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