The app’s links to China had some concerned over tracking, but the latest way it tracks you will leave users annoyed.
TikTok users will be forced to see ads targeted directly at them when the app’s policy changes next month.
The policy change will make “personalised” ads mandatory from April 15, currently they’re an option you can disable.
The ads, also known as “targeted” advertising or “interest-based” advertising are some of the creepiest and most frequent reminders of our modern age of “surveillance capitalism”, where swathes of data is collected on us by multi-billion dollar corporations to sell our attention to advertisers.
If you’ve ever been having a regular conversation with your friend and then seen ads for something you were just talking about on your Facebook or Instagram feeds – it’s likely you’ve been hit with a targeted ad based on your recent internet browsing activity.
Of course, we won’t completely rule out the remote possibility that your phone’s microphone is being used to spy on you, which relevant parties like Facebook, Google and Apple deny is happening – even when it’s been proven that your phone or “smart speaker” sometimes records you without you knowing.
Targeted ads are primarily called “personalised ads” by the tech industry now because it makes it sound like a good thing by allowing advertisers to serve you more “relevant” ads.
The ads are “personalised” using “cookies” and other trackers to follow you across the web, collecting information on the things you search and engage in.
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TikTok has now been informing people who “currently see general ads that aren’t based on what you do on or off TikTok” that “your settings will change and the ads you’ll see may start to be based on what you do on or off TikTok,” the company said.
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TikTok users are going to start seeing personalised ads based on their behaviour on the app but the company said they’ll “still have control over whether ads can be more tailored to you based on data from our advertising partners”.
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Others social media platforms already do this: Facebook (and therefore Instagram), Twitter, and Snapchat currently target ads based on what it looks like you’re interested in through your activity on the app.
Like TikTok will do, you can stop “advertising partners” targeting you.
Facebook lets you see what the company knows about you and delete interests that aren’t relevant, but it’s not yet clear if TikTok will have the same offering when it forces on personalised ads next month.
TikTok’s change comes on the back of increased advertiser interest since Donald Trump left the White House.
The former US President was at war with TikTok last year over its links to China and unsuccessfully tried to get the app banned.
Another forthcoming change could have played a role too.
In an update coming to Apple’s iPhones soon, apps will have to get your permission before being able to track your data.
Developers also have to add information to their listings on the app store, detailing what data they collect and whether it’s linked to you.
If the data collection methods TikTok will use to target ads is anywhere near as sophisticated as the algorithm TikTok uses to keep you glued to its “For You” page for hours on end, it could pose a threat to Facebook and Google’s stranglehold on digital advertising and probably melt a few brains into a pasty mush in the process.
The change comes into effect on April 15 and by continuing to use the app you’re agreeing that’s fine.