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How does TikTok know so much about me?




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TikTok knows me better than I do. You can feel when you want to see a dog scream strangely (always) or when you want to see a couple exercising together (never). Fellow TikTok’s obsession often attribute the app’s eerie accuracy to its all-around eye, its own mysterious Big Brother: algorithm. But how does TikTok and its algorithms know exactly what we want to see? A new report from The Wall Street Journal explores how the TikToks algorithm works and provides insight into why your For You page feels so special to you.

To conduct the survey, the journal created over 100 automated accounts (such as bots) with a small number of identifiers, such as age, location, and some specific concerns. Each bot watched hundreds of thousands of videos and re-watched or hovered over TikToks to suit their favorite content. (Honestly, this is very similar to how I, as a human, work in the app.) TikTok has been interested in most Journals bots in less than two hours, some in less than 40 minutes. I learned.

TikTok prioritizes content similar to what you like, share and follow, but the journal has found that one factor seems to rob them all: total play time. In other words, TikTok recognizes what you’ve watched completely, what you’ve watched again, and what you scrolled after a few seconds, and curates your recommendations accordingly.

Given the suspicious history of user privacy, a TikTok spokesman who spoke to the journal categorically insists that the app does not listen through a microphone or read text messages to provide personalized video. Did. This reflects a June 2020 blog post from TikTok posted when the Trump administration began talking about the TikTok ban explaining how the app would recommend videos to users. According to the blog post, all the information you like, comments posted, hashtags of videos you watched, device types, location settings, etc. should be fed to your For You page using TikToks, which the algorithm thinks you enjoy. Is weighted to. , to see.

The blog post doesn’t explicitly state how much total play time is a factor, but strong indicators of interest, such as whether a user has finished watching a long video from start to finish, are It states that it receives more weight than weak indicators. Whether the viewer and creator of the video are in the same country. What you see, like the journal reports found, tells you a lot about what the TikToks algorithm gives you.

Guillaume Chaslot, founder of Algotransparency, told the journal that the algorithm could find vulnerable content. According to Chaslot, that doesn’t mean you really like it, it’s the content you enjoy the most. Only content is most likely to stay on the platform. In other words, TikTok doesn’t care if you’re looking forward or hate as long as you keep watching.

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