TikTok kept list of users who watched LGBTQ+ content, former employees say

Hand holds phone with TikTok logo on the screen

TikTok is facing criticism over reports that it stored a list of users who watched LGBTQ+ content for at least a year.

Former employees told the Wall Street Journal that the app cataloged users who watched videos on LGBTQ+ topics. 

Between 2020 and 2021, TikTok employees in the US, UK and Australia flagged concerns over the discovery of the stored data, warning that if compromised, it could be used to blackmail people living in countries where being LGBTQ+ is criminalised.

According to one former employee, workers in China had access to the data and would sometimes control the permissions for who could view it. 

TikTok is owned by Chinese company ByteDance.

A TikTok representative told the Wall Street Journal that the data set was accessible on the dashboard to authorised employees only and that the dashboard was deleted in the US almost a year ago. 

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“The data represents users’ interests and isn’t necessarily a sign of someone’s identity,” they said.

“Users who engage with LGBT content on TikTok may not identify as LGBT themselves, just as there are people who enjoy baking content but aren’t bakers.”

A TikTok spokesperson told PinkNews: “Safeguarding the privacy and security of people who use TikTok is one of our top priorities.

“TikTok does not identify individuals or infer sensitive information such as sexual orientation or race based on what they watch.”

TikTok has faced scrutiny over data

TikTok and its Chinese owner, ByteDance, have come under intense scrutiny over concerns about how it handles its data, and whether this data could be shared with the Chinese government. 

The Biden administration has accused TikTok of storing sensitive data on US citizens and claimed it serves as a Trojan horse for Beijing to “manipulate America”.

Escalating concerns saw lawmakers demand that the video app’s Chinese owners sell their stakes in the platform or face an outright ban in the country. In April, Montana lawmakers passed a bill to ban TikTok from operating in the state.

China’s government often cracks down on LGBTQ+ representation and in 2021 it banned “sissy” effeminate men from appearing on TV, as well as video games featuring same-sex relationships.

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