Focused View

Privacy first: TikTok’s “Focused View” needs immediate review

Access Now has received a response from TikTok. The reply points to optimising ads being an “industry practice,” and to the company’s privacy policy that applies to “Focused View,” but leaves most of the serious questions on the privacy and data protection impact of this feature unanswered. TikTok’s response does not reassure Access Now on the provisions to protect people’s rights. Read the reply

Access Now will continue engaging with regulators on the impact of TikTok and the social media industry’s problematic data and tracking practices. To help people protect themselves from tracking, read Access Now’s Explainer: how to get out of targeted ads on TikTok, a guide that walks people through a four step process to remove targeted ads in less than two minutes.  

TikTok’s new “Focused View” feature could be jeopardising the human rights of 200 million people who use its services. In an open letter to TikTok, Access Now is demanding the company clarifies how it applies EU laws and human rights safeguards when using this feature and for key documents to be made public.

“For TikTok’s new ‘Focused View’ to function the way the company claims, the habits, affects, and personal interactions of people on the platform must be tracked and dissected,” said Estelle Massé, Global Data Protection Lead at Access Now. “This is not only an invasion of privacy, but is opening the gate for dystopian claims of invasive-emotion detection — both incredibly frightening, and often unscientific.”

Launched in October 2022, the social media giant’s new feature offers a pay if users engage” option for advertisers, purporting to broadcast to platform subscribers who are “truly paying attention” and are “being emotionally and tangibly engaged.” Brands pay only if their advertisement is “voluntarily” viewed for six seconds or more. Extracting such specific information from people on TikTok raises alarming red flags around the company’s compliance and understanding of privacy, data protection, misleading advertising, and upcoming AI rules in Europe. 

“Social media platforms have a responsibility to respect human rights, and TikTok is no exception,” said Isedua Oribhabor, Business & Human Rights Lead at Access Now. “We must not normalise having our privacy exploited just because we join a platform, take part in a video, or share a thought online. Companies like TikTok cannot continue to put profits before people and operate without transparency or accountability.”

Access Now is calling on TikTok to immediately publicly address a series of questions to establish clarity and help inform the wider community on the safeguards in place to ensure “Focused View” puts people and their rights first, including:

  • Did you conduct any impact assessments, including a data protection impact assessment, to identify the human rights risks of this feature?
  • What user data do you process to measure and assert a person is giving their “voluntarily undivided attention” to an ad and is “emotionally engaging” for at least six seconds? and
  • What legal basis available under the General Data Protection Regulation are you relying on to ensure the lawfulness of the different processing taking place for all or some of these activities?

“With ‘Focused View,’ Tiktok has designed a feature that serves brands and the ad industry at the detriment of people,” said Chiara Manfredini, EU Policy and Advocacy Intern at Access Now. “We are asking TikTok to live up to its commitments and obligations to protect people’s rights.”

Read the open letter and blog on “Focused View.”