March 24, 2023

TikTok scans public videos to determine users’ ages, says CEO

TikTok scans public videos to determine users’ ages, says CEO

Amid questioning about TikTok’s use of biometrics in today’s Congressional hearing, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew offered some insight into how the company vets potentially underage users on its platform.

 After denying the app collects body, face or voice data to identify its users — beyond what’s needed for its in-app AR filters to function, that is — the exec was asked how TikTok determines the age of its users.

Chew’s initial answer was expected: The app uses age gating. This refers to the commonly used method that simply asks a user to provide their birthdate in order to determine their age. In TikTok, there are three different experiences: for under-13 users, younger teens and adults 18+ — which experience the user receives is based on this age input.

Relying on this method alone is a problem, of course, because kids often lie about their age when signing up for social media apps and websites.

As it turns out, TikTok is doing more than looking at the age that’s entered into a text box.

In the hearing, Chew added that TikTok scans users’ videos to determine their age.

“We have also developed some tools where we look at their public profile, to go through the videos that they post to see whether…,” Chew began, before being interrupted by Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA), who interjected, “That’s creepy. Tell me more about that.”

When Chew was able to continue, he explained “It’s public. So if you post a video, you choose that video to go public — that’s how you get people to see your video. We look at those to see if it matches up the age that you talked about it,” he said.

“Now, this is a real challenge for our industry because privacy versus age assurance is a really big problem,” Chew said.