TikTok said Wednesday it plans to open a content moderation transparency center in its US office to address concerns over the security and privacy of its short video platform.

Why it matters: The Chinese-owned app faces increasing scrutiny from US lawmakers concerned about content censorship and the potential that personal information from its American users may be shared with the Chinese government.

  • TikTok has seen massive growth and has become particularly popular among teens. The app, together with its Chinese version Douyin, was downloaded more than 738 million times in 2019, making it the second most-downloaded app in the world.
  • The scrutiny it faces in the US bears similarities to what social app Grindr faced prior to its sale to US investors. Splitting TikTok off would deal a significant blow to parent company Bytedance’s valuation, the world’s most valuable startup, last valued at $78 billion in late 2018 according to marketing intelligence firm CB Insights.

Details: TikTok plans to set up a content moderation center in its Los Angeles office to show outside experts how the app moderates content on the platform, the company said in a statement Wednesday.

  • Experts will be able to observe how the company’s content moderators review videos uploaded to the platforms and identify potential violations, as well as see how user complaints are handled, according to the statement.
  • The center will open in early May. It will focus on TikTok’s content moderation in the initial phase and will be expanded to include insight into its source code, as well as efforts around data privacy and security, the company said.
  • The company also announced that it has hired cybersecurity veteran Roland Cloutier as its chief information security officer who will join the company in April. Cloutier was the chief security officer at payroll-services firm ADP, according to his Linkedin profile.
  • “Our landscape and industry is rapidly evolving, and we are aware that our systems, policies and practices are not flawless, which is why we are committed to constant improvement,” TikTok US General Manager Vanessa Pappas said in the statement.

Context: TikTok has stepped up efforts in recent months to address concerns over its alleged content censorship in the US and its ties to the Chinese government.

  • The company released in December its first-ever transparency report, saying that it did not receive any requests in the first half of 2019 for user information from the Chinese government including law enforcement agencies.
  • The Guardian reported in September that TikTok instructs its moderators to censor videos that are deemed politically sensitive by the Chinese government, citing leaked documents detailing the platform’s guidelines. The company said in November that the guidelines were retired in May.

Wei Sheng

Wei Sheng is a Beijing-based reporter covering hardware, smartphone, and telecommunications, along with regulations and policies related to the China tech scene. Before joining TechNode, he wrote about...

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