The Sneaky Way TikTok Is Connecting You to Real-Life Friends

TikTok wasn't able to connect people with their family and friends like other social apps. TikTok's stated mission was to "inspire creativity, build joy," which is far from Facebook's goal of "bringing the world closer together." Its main feature, the For You Page algorithm that recommends videos based only on what users have liked, and not whether they were uploaded to it by someone they know. Recently, however, this seems to be changing.
TikTok has been a dating app that you can expect to never run into annoying uncles or ex-boyfriends. However, the platform is making an effort to connect users with people who are already in good standing outside of the app. WIRED has heard from eight TikTok users that the app encourages them to follow real people over the past few months. This has also been a popular complaint from TikTok users, raising privacy concerns over the methods the app uses in establishing who they are.

TikTok spokesperson said that privacy and security are paramount to the community.

Alex, a 27 year-old Queens resident, said that she was shocked to discover that her father had been following her profile on TikTok. Although she quickly blocked him, the incident was disturbing because Alex often posted about being bisexual. Her father wasn't aware of this.

Alex states, "While I had been contemplating coming out to him lately, I feel like that choice was taken from me." Although her profile contains her name, she believes that the chance of her father finding it is low due to how TikTok works. Because of our different beliefs and interests, I was surprised that he found my profile. Alex says that I would never have guessed that the algorithm would show me my videos. He never found my profile so I didn't worry about it.

They want you to transfer your entire social network to TikTok. Ben Grosser, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Although it is possible that her father sought out her account actively, it is unlikely that he would have needed to. TikTok, like many social media platforms allows users to connect their Facebook friends and phone contacts with TikTok. According to the privacy settings, TikTok will automatically suggest your account to your phone contacts if you have provided a number and indicated your age. If someone has access to your number, and you have provided it to TikTok, they can search your profile unless your actively opt out.

TikTok requires permission to access your contacts list. However, two users claim they didn't know they were opted in until WIRED asked them. Michael Waters, a Brooklyn-based writer, says that he never does this. He believes he clicked on a popup message. Many people have reported that they unwittingly synced their TikTok contacts with Twitter.

TikTok can also find out your real-life friends through other methods. The default setting of TikTok is to suggest your profile to people who share a similar interest. This includes people who are following or follow the same accounts. It's similar to how Facebook recommends friends to each other.