How TikTok's New Ads Could Mean Less Privacy

Better ads, but at a cost

  • TikTok is the latest social media network to remove the option to disable personalized advertisements.
  • You can still disable TikTok tracking your info in other apps.
  • Experts say this is just another move that proves user privacy is a second thought, and you should be wary of how you share info if you want to protect yourself.
A Coca-Cola billboard in Times Square.
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Soon you won’t be able to disable personalized advertisements on TikTok, further proving that user privacy is just a second thought.

The move is most likely in conjunction with Apple’s push for app developers to make you aware of any tracking that happens when using their apps. You can still stop TikTok from tracking you outside of the app, but from now on, the way you use TikTok will determine what kind of ads you see on your "For You" page. This move takes the choice out of users' hands, something that experts say never should happen.

"This is a great moment to recognize our laws in the US need to be changed," Brad Snow, an information technology advisor at IT Compliancy, told Lifewire via email. 

"The reality is many people won't have a problem with tracking in the name of personalization. Either way, you're going to be looking at ads, so many will opt-in for ads that are of interest and not generic. But again, the use of this data should be the choice of the user."

Always Watching

Ads are everything, and that isn’t likely to change anytime soon. The problem with the current state of advertisement is how companies access user data without considering the user’s choice. 

Many users aren’t aware they’re even being tracked, which only creates a lack of trust in how your data is found and used against you.

A closeup of someone using a laptop, with different online activities overlayed in symbols.
Chainarong Prasertthai / Getty images

"Honestly, I think it’s a lack of education on how data is being used, and it’s a lack of trust that their data is protected," Titania Jordan, chief marketing and chief parent officer of Bark, told Lifewire on a call.

"If you don’t understand how your data is gathered and from where, it can be really jarring to see ads for things that you don’t even remember searching for. It might feel like you’re being spied on."

Whether or not you use social media, you’ve most likely come across some form of personalized advertising. Perhaps you’ve been talking with a friend about some new game or product you've wanted to try out. Then, the next time you go to use Google, you see advertisements for that product or game in your searches. This can be jarring, and it can make you feel like someone always is watching you.

Because so many websites and companies share your data openly with advertisers, you have little choice in the process. That’s why it's always a concern to see companies and apps like TikTok remove the options to disable personalized advertising.

Being Mindful

Both Snow and Jordan agree that personalized ads can be nice, since seeing items you like is better than being forced to watch ads for things you don’t care about. Unfortunately, with advertisers having an open invitation to your information, the stakes often can become higher. 

"We know breaches happen, even at the biggest sites with the biggest budgets for security, and it can be unnerving," Jordan explained.

"If you don’t understand how your data is gathered and from where, it can be really jarring to see ads for things that you don’t even remember searching for."

Having your data used in targeted ads can be concerning enough. But the lack of trust created because users aren’t aware how or when their data is being tracked can be particularly disheartening, particularly when there's a security breach involving your personal information.

You never know which companies will be targeted for those breaches, and many won’t even make you aware of information exposures when they happen. Because of this, Jordan recommends always being mindful of what you share.

Everything that you post is fuel for advertisers. The information you include in social media bios or items you share with friends via instant messaging is all information that can be gathered and used against you.

“If I put 'mom' in my bio on TikTok, then I’m probably going to start seeing advertisements for things like diapers, even though my child doesn’t wear diapers anymore,” Jordan said.

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