The popular video-sharing social network TikTok has released its first transparency report just as the year 2019 came to a close. Bytedance, the Chinese company which owns TikTok, says that this report is designed to map the nature of requests they receive from governments around the world regarding user account information and other legal requests. This transparency report compiles the data from January 1, 2019 to June 30, 2019 for legal requests for user account information and for government requests for any content removal from the platform.
According to the TikTok Transparency Report, the company received the maximum legal requests for user information from India, followed by the US and Japan. From India, as many as 107 requests were sent to TikTok, of which 8 were categorized as emergency requests. As many as 143 accounts were specified in these requests. TikTok says these requests come from an entity authorized to gather evidence in connection with a law enforcement investigation or to investigate an emergency involving imminent harm. TikTok says they complied with 47% of these requests, though the company doesn’t say exactly how they reached a verdict for each of these requests.
In the US, TikTok got as many as 79 requests in total for user information, of which 11 were considered emergency requests and 255 accounts were specified. TikTok complied with 86% of these requests. They also got 35 requests from Japan, 12 from Germany, 11 from Norway, 8 from France, 6 each from the UK, Sweden and South Korea, 5 from Australia, 3 each from Israel and Italy, 2 from Poland and one each from Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Hungary, Iceland, Jordan, New Zealand, Pakistan, Russia, Singapore, Switzerland and Turkey.
“Like all global internet platforms, TikTok is subject to a variety of laws and regulations in each country. Occasionally we are presented with requests from various official bodies in the countries where the TikTok app operates, such as government agencies or law enforcement officials, asking us to take certain actions at their behest,” says Eric Ebenstein, Head of Public Policy, TikTok.
The TikTok Transparency Report also lists the government requests for content removal as well. India leads the way in this, with 11 requests in the first 6 months of 2019. These requests also specified 9 TikTok accounts. The social network says 8 of these accounts were restricted or removed from the TikTok platform, and 4 pieces of content were removed or restricted as well. This was followed by the US, which sent 6 government requests to TikTok, specifying 7 user accounts. The social network says all 7 accounts were removed or restricted and one piece of content was removed as well. TikTok says the government requests for removal of content are usually based on local laws, which certain posts may be violating. “We review such requests closely and evaluate the specified content in accordance with our Community Guidelines and local laws,” says the report.
TikTok also says they got 3 such requests from Japan, 2 each from Australia and France, and one each from Israel, Italy and the UK. TikTok also says they got no government requests to take down content or restrict or remove users, from any other countries, apart from the ones listed in the report.
What is perhaps most interesting is that the report does not include China. Does this mean that TikTok did not get any requests for content removal or user data details from the Chinese government? Back in September, a report in The Washington Post had suggested that the social media platform was actively censoring content related to the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong at the time. Was it at the directions of the Chinese authorities, or self-censoring done by the Bytedance owned TikTok? While TikTok denied these allegations, the lawmakers in the US still called for an investigation.
TikTok says they will regularly release such transparency reports and also confirm that the numbers for the second-half of 2019 will be released in the coming weeks.