How To Make a Child-Safe TikTok

Have you tried not spying on kids?

The exterior of a corporate office building, with the TikTok logo and wordmark over its revolving doors. From behind the revolving doors glares the hostile red eye of HAL9000 from Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey.” In front of the doors is a ‘you must be this tall to ride’ amusement-park cutout of a boy with a bow-tie, holding out his arm to indicate the minimum required height.
Cryteria/CC BY 3.0; Vxla/CC BY 2.0 (modified)

Rep. Buddy Carter, Republican of Georgia: I wanna talk about biometric matrix, and I wanna talk specifically. Can you tell me right now, can you say, with one hundred percent certainty, that TikTok does not use the phone’s camera to determine whether the content that elicits a pupil dilation should be amplified by the algorithm? Can you tell me that?

TikTok CEO Shou Chew: We do not collect body, face or voice data to identify our users. We do not.

Carter: You don’t —

Chew: No. The only face data that you’ll get, that we collect is when you use the filters that put, say, sunglasses on your face, we need to know where your eyes are —

Carter: Why do you need to know where the eyes are if you’re not seeing if they’re dilated?

Chew: —and the data is stored locally on your local device and deleted after the use, if you use it for facial. Again, we do not collect body, face, or voice data to identify our users.

Carter: I find that hard to believe. It is our understanding that they’re looking at the eyes. How do you determine what age they are then?

Chew: We rely on age-gating as our key age assurance —

Carter: Age?

Chew: — gating. It’s when you ask the user what age they are. We’ve also developed some tools, where we look at their public profile, then go through the videos that they post to see whether —

Carter: Well, that’s creepy. Tell me more about that.

Chew: It’s public. So, if you post a video, you choose whether to go public, that’s how you get people to see your video. We look at those to see if it matches the age that you talked about. Now, this is a real challenge for our industry because privacy versus age assurance is a really big problem —

Carter: Look, look, you keep talking about the industry, we’re talking about TikTok here —

House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on TikTok, March 23, 2023.
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