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How Tik Tok Knows Everything About You

February 28th, 2021

By: Phoebe Su

How many times have you been scrolling through TikTok and seen an ad about a piece of clothing that you have been thinking about purchasing? Or was just talking to your friend about Chipotle and then suddenly you are seeing Chipotle deals all over? Or a TikTok video about dogs after having a conversation about how you love Golden Retrievers? How does TikTok know everything about your life and your deepest darkest thoughts?

The Algorithm

Courtesy of Facebook

According to TikTok, the recommendation system depends on three factors: user interactions, video information, device, and account settings. User interactions include the videos you like or share, accounts you follow, comments you post, and content that you create. Video information refers to details like the caption, the sound used, and hashtags. Device and account settings are things like your language preference, country setting, and device type. All these factors are then ranked and adjusted to personalize your For You feed. One of the strongest indicators of interest is how long a user stays on a particular video.

Curating The For You Feed

As a new user, TikTok starts off by showing you a general variety of popular videos. From there, they will start to polish recommendations based on your interactions with these initial sets of videos. This means that the more you use the app, the more tailored it will get to your needs. This explains why we all have different For You pages, ranging from a feed full of cute animal videos to politics to astrology, dance, or memes. Some have criticized the feed for being repetitive and monotonous. TikTok is not necessarily focused on what you like, but instead what you spend the most time watching in order to get you addicted to the app.

Courtesy of Influencer Marketing Hub

Allowing Small Creators To Shine

What sets TikTok apart from other social media platforms is getting rid of the hierarchy of a high count of followers and likes, which means only those with high followers are more seen and rewarded. Take apps like Instagram and Facebook for example. Instead, TikTok is content-focused, meaning anyone can become famous with any video they make, as long as the content is relatable to a particular niche. The video can also be shown on anyone’s feed, even if that person does not follow your account. This means a creator is rewarded based on the value of the content they create, not their existing follower count or such.

User Privacy Concerns

Courtesy of Setupad

A survey found that 97% of consumers are very concerned about protecting their personal data. At the same time, 74% of customers feel frustrated by seeing irrelevant content from brands. This is an issue for marketers who have relied on tracking tools like web cookies for decades in order to boost the efficacy of customer outreach. Companies and marketers who do not figure out a way to maintain and grow their access to first-party data might expect to spend 10 to 20 percent more on marketing and sales to generate the same returns. Marketers need data in order to gain a deeper understanding of the target audience and customer needs in order to design strategies to deliver videos to meet those needs. We can rest knowing that TikTok is following all the privacy guidelines and much like all other social media platforms, they document user information to provide easy sign-ins and supply targeted ads, keep track of your cookies and your search and browsing history on the app and has access to your location through your SIM card or IP address, as well as messages you send on the app. While the company uses your personal information as well as user-related activity on the platform for product testing, targeted advertising, and other customizable features, TikTok promises that it does not sell personal information to third parties without your consent. As much as we don’t like our data being analyzed by companies, in order for TikTok to continue producing personalized content that interests us, we will have to sacrifice some of our privacy.


Phoebe Su is one of the Co-Content Directors this semester. She is a sophomore student-athlete at NYU CAS studying Economics and on the NYU Varsity Tennis Team.

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