A billion users, including more than 22 million in France… In a few years, TikTok, the latest of the major social networks, has overtaken most of its competitors.
One more platform like the others? Not really. It stands out mainly with a very addictive algorithm and persistent links with China.
After four months of investigations and around thirty hearings of experts, researchers, political leaders as well as leaders of TikTok France, a Senate inquiry committee unveiled this July 6 the conclusions of its report on the use of the social network, its use of personal data and its influence strategy.
An “extremely addictive” algorithm
First observation made by the rapporteur Claude Malhuret: “IChinese-born digital companies cannot grow without strong support from the Chinese authorities. “Which makes him say that, like Huawei yesterday, ” TikTok now logically embodies the concerns that a digital company of Chinese origin can arouse“.
More generally, and despite repeated requests, the commission of inquiry never obtained the clear answers it expected from the leaders of the platform.
Whether it is the nature of user data transferred to China, or the precise functioning of TikTok’s reputable recommendation algorithm” extremely addictive, which keeps its users, mainly children and teenagers, for hours on their screens “. Mickaël Vallet, the president of the commission of inquiry specifies:NOTWe had 80% non-responses for 20% approximate responses. »
The senators did not beat around the bush. They ask the government to suspend TikTok in France » and to » request its suspension within the European Union” , whether :
- the social network does not specify, before the 1uh next January, the nature of his links with the Chinese authorities,
- and if it does not put in place, a moderation” effective ” and an ” effective age controlof its users.
Data collection and algorithmic profiling
The Senate report is also edifying as to the level of control exercised over users. He reveals that TikTok manages to attract the attention of its 22 million French people, twice as long as its competitor, Instagram. » Today, 45% of 11-12 year olds are registered on TikTok“, also recalls Claude Malhuret.
The social network collects a large amount of data directly from the user or through their phone. Nothing new in the digital world so far. But where the platform stands out is that it also collects data via algorithmic profiling, itself resulting from the user’s permanent and very fast interaction with the “For you” feed.
” Which allows the app to infer characteristics that the individual has not actively revealed“, underlines the report. The platform thus establishes a psychological profile of its users and can use it for commercial or other undetermined purposes.
Another very worrying observation: the highlighting of dangerous or hyper-sexualized content. TikTok’s algorithm leads to “locking users into sometimes dangerous filter bubbles”,alert reporters. According to a study by the Center for Countering Digital Hate from December 2022, the application tends to offer more dangerous content to vulnerable people.
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Compared to standard profiles, those of users showing an interest in mental health issues are offered 12 times more suicide-related videos. The filters offered by TikTok, such as Bold Glamour, are widely criticized for the risks of development of dysmorphophobia in young girls.“Practicing psychologists who see adolescents are frightened by a number of effects on them”,explains Claude Malhuret.
The text recommends setting upfor minors, a blocking of the application after 60 minutes of use“. To enforce these rules, the report recommends forcing TikTok to ” having an effective age verification system in place, including an independent third-party verifier“.