TikTok Faces New Questions About Targeted Advertising

House Democrats are demanding answers from TikTok about a broad range of the online platform's practices, including its use of data for marketing.

“TikTok embodies concerns that platforms are monetizing their users’ data to drive revenue, with your company allowing advertisers to specifically target users -- including teenagers -- based on a wide variety of user characteristics, including their age, location, gender, household income, interests based on the types of videos they have watched, and behavior based on how they have interacted with recent content on TikTok,” Rep. Frank Pallone (D-New Jersey), ranking member of the Energy and Commerce committee, said in a letter sent Thursday to CEO Shou Zi Chew.

The letter comes one month after Chew testified to Congress about the company's collection and use of data, as well as its content-moderation practices.

Chew said at that hearing that TikTok's data practices were comparable to those of other tech companies.

“I don't think American companies have a good track record with respect to privacy," Chew said at one point, referencing Facebook's Cambridge Analytica debacle.

Pallone wrote that the March hearing “reinforced Americans’ fears that social media platforms, including TikTok, have been collecting, using, sharing, and selling their data without meaningful limits.”

Among other questions, he asked Chew to forecast the company's projected 2023 revenue, and to estimate how much will come from targeted ads in the U.S.

The letter also asks some specific questions about how TikTok, owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, uses data for advertising -- including whether has used precise geolocation data, or health data, to serve targeted ads.

Pallone additionally asks whether TikTok will promise to stop collecting health related data without users' opt-in consent, and whether the company will promise to refrain from “selling American user data to third parties, including subsidiaries or parent companies, in the future.”

Several other questions deal with how the company moderates content, and how it handles data collected from teens. For instance, Pallone asked Chew to explain how TikTok “reviews and takes down health misinformation,” as well as whether the company will “commit to ending targeted marketing to users under the age of 18.”

The letter requests responses by April 27.

TikTok has been facing increased scrutiny for months, largely over concerns that data collected by the company about U.S. users is being shared with China.

Numerous states have banned the use of TikTok on government owned devices, and Montana is currently considering legislation that aims to ban use of the app within the state.

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