The Sneaky Way TikTok Connects You to Real Life Friends

Unlike other social apps, TikTok did not become a worldwide success by connecting people with their friends and family. Its stated mission is to “encourage creativity and promote happiness,” a far cry from Facebook’s purpose of “bringing the world closer.” The central part of the app, the Page Algorithm For You, primarily recommends videos based on users ’preferences, not if they were uploaded by someone they know. But recently, it appears to be beginning to change.

While TikTok has so far been an app where most of you would expect not to encounter annoying uncles, ex-boyfriends, or co-workers, the platform is now making a greater effort to connect users with the people who are that they relationship outside the platform. Eight TikTok users told WIRED that in the past few months, the app has started encouraging them to follow people from real life. It also became a common complaint among TikTok loyalists more broadly, raising privacy concerns about the tactics the app uses to find out who they know first.

“The safety and privacy of our community is paramount so we provide a variety of privacy settings and opt-in features that empower people to customize their app experience at their own convenience. and happiness, “a TikTok spokesperson said in a statement.

Alex, a 27-year-old who lives in Queens, said one night earlier this year he checked his TikTok announcements and was shocked to realize that his father had followed his profile. He quickly blocked her, but the incident was bad because he would always post about being bisexual, something his father didn’t know about him.

“While I was thinking about being with him recently, I felt like the choice was taken away from me,” Alex said. Her profile includes her name, but she still thinks the risk of her father discovering that it’s small is how TikTok works. “I was amazed that he found me because of our different beliefs and interests. I never predicted that the algorithm would show him in my videos, so I never worried about him finding my profile, ”Alex said.

While it’s possible that his father is actively looking for his account, he probably doesn’t need it anymore. Like many social media platforms, TikTok allows users to find people they know by syncing their phone contacts or Facebook friends. If you provide a phone number when you sign up and list your age over 16, by default TikTok will “suggest your account to phone contacts,” according to the app’s privacy settings. If someone has your number — and you give it to TikTok — they’ll find your profile unless you’re actively opting out.

TikTok needs permission to access your contact list, but both users said they didn’t know they had selected the feature until they were asked by a WIRED reporter to check. “I made a point of never doing that,” said Michael Waters, a writer who lives in Brooklyn, who suspects he accidentally clicked on a pop-up message. A number of people on Twitter also reported syncing their TikTok contacts unintentionally.

There are other ways to find out on TikTok who you know in real life. Typically, the app recommends your profile “to people who have a similar connection to you.” That includes users who follow or are followed on the same accounts, just like how Facebook recommends people to each other who have similar friends.

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