Chinese video-sharing app TikTok does not invade user privacy or censor posts any more than does Facebook or Twitter — and maybe less so, according to a Canadian study.
The new study, from the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab and published on Monday, compared TikTok's source code with that of Douyin, developer ByteDance's parallel app for the Chinese market.
The study found no evidence that the app collects contact lists, records or sends photos, audio, video or geolocation coordinates without user permission.
"Both TikTok and Douyin have source code for restricting search results for content labeled as 'hate speech,' 'suicide prevention,' and 'sensitive'," the report said. The authors speculated that "sensitive " might be shorthand for “politically sensitive”, but could not confirm the assertion.
The team said evidence of whether TikTok employs "political censorship of user posts" — as Facebook and Twitter both do — is "inconclusive." While they found that Douyin overtly restricts searches for some political terms, the research suggests that TikTok does not.
TikTok contains "dormant" code from Douyin, however, which researchers believe can be used to turn on "China-specific" features, including search censorship. The claim could not, however, be asserted with 100% surety, according to the study.
The app has come under attack from US rivals who call it "spyware" and politicians who claim it allows Beijing's ruling Communist Party to censor material it deems subversive or seditious. The app now sets the accounts of under-16s as 'private' by default after concerns over safeguarding.
The former US president, Donald Trump, tried unsuccessfully to ban TikTok and subsequently force ByteDance to sell off its US operations. The Biden administration has suggested that it will not reverse those steps.