Watching Thursday’s Congressional grilling of TikTok CEO Shou Chew left me convinced of two things: that I am glad not to work in comms for that social platform, and that I may never get the hang of that social platform.
My engagement so far with the ByteDance-owned app could make my apathetic Snapchat use look clingy. I put TikTok’s app on my iPad three and a half years ago, using Apple’s “Sign in with Apple” and Hide My Email to create an account walled-off from my existing online IDs, and then I did next to nothing with it aside from issuing an App Tracking Transparency veto on the app once Apple rolled out that privacy feature.
During the unfortunately-endless summer of 2020, I also put TikTok on a loaner Android phone to see what permissions it would ask upfront, and was surprlsed by how modest its requests were compared to some apps. I still doubt that TikTok represents as much of a privacy threat as data brokers wholesaling personal information collected off smartphone apps, a market that I trust remains open to front companies of the Chinese Communist Party.
I have since seen a fair amount of TikTok videos, just not in the app–shared on Twitter and Instagram and embedded in stories on Web pages.
Lately, I’ve spent a little more time in TikTok itself since my password manager 1Password added the ability to save a “Sign in with Apple” and other single-sign-on authentications. That browser-only feature made it easier to sign into TikTok in a desktop copy of Mozilla Firefox, which I already know will constrain a site’s demands for data.
This tip-toeing into TikTok has left me with a basic, dadcore following list–it includes the Wall Street Journal, so TikTok doesn’t seem to be making more sympathetic to the CCP–and perhaps a puddle-depth comprehension of the platform.
Maybe more TikTok time would have helped me recognize the ugly picture painted Thursday by both Democratic and Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. But professional curiosity aside, spending more time there doesn’t strike me as personal to-do-list material. I still fundamentally don’t see what makes TikTok so fascinating as a social medium, or why I’d want to post there when I don’t need to spend more time on social media.
I feel bad saying that. It could be my age talking: Scrolling from video to video to video (see also, Instagram’s lookalike Reels) can be a fun distraction, but it also reminds me of the annoying person in a college dorm lounge with the TV remote who couldn’t stay on one channel for more than 30 seconds at a stretch.
Having taken all of these steps to quarantine my TikTok usage, I’m also struck by another thought: What the hell was I thinking when I put WeChat, an app that’s far more aggressive with its data demands, on my Android phone during a trip to China back in 2017?