TikTok will let researchers at US-based nonprofit universities access public data, the company announced today, following earlier rounds of testing with subject matter experts.
The platform’s API will allow academics and researchers to access “public, anonymized” data like user profiles and content like comments, likes, and favorites on videos and search results in order to better understand TikTok trends and user activity. The research API was first announced last summer, and members of an advisory council were given access to the API in November.
Now, a wider range of researchers will be able to study TikTok more closely, but access to the API is still controlled by the company. Research proposals require approval by TikTok’s US Data Security division, and academics must adhere to terms of service to use the API. The company says it will expand access to its research API to more regions and nonprofit researchers “in the coming months.”
TikTok’s initial announcement of the research API came as multiple reports detailed the complicated relationship between TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance. Since then, scrutiny has only intensified as TikTok has tried to prove it isn’t a threat to national security: the app has been banned from government-issued phones belonging to members of the House of Representatives, and similar restrictions have spread to states and other federal agencies. In December, ByteDance confirmed several employees had tracked Forbes journalists in an attempt to unearth the source of leaks coming from inside the company. Several employees were fired or resigned as a result. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is scheduled to testify before Congress next month.
The news of increased access to public data is the latest in a flurry of moves from the company aimed at increasing trust, purporting to give researchers, journalists, and the public more insight into how it operates. Earlier this month, the company invited media to tour its Transparency and Accountability Center, a physical office space where visitors can interact with mock moderation software and learn about its security practices. Even so, banning TikTok has become a highly politicized issue as US politicians on both sides of the aisle continue to call for an outright ban.