TikTok expands access to its research API
March 1, 2023
TikTok, the short video app created by Zhang Yiming, is doing more than its part to try to prove to US regulators that it is a 100% transparent app, and thus avoid being banned in the United States. The company announced last week that it will now give access to its API to a larger group of researchers.
For this we need to understand what an API is
The term API is an abbreviation for Application Programming Interfaces. It is a set of definitions and protocols used to develop and integrate application software, enabling communication between two software applications through a set of rules.
They are not the visible part, but the internal circuits that only developers see and connect to make a tool work. To a normal user, the only thing you will see from an API are the results, when you open a mobile game and you can connect to your Facebook account to log in, or how you can post the results of a game on Twitter. Or when that application sends you notifications to your mobile or computer.
When TikTok first announced the research API last summer, the company said researchers did not currently have an effortless way to evaluate content or conduct testing on its platform, so it saw a need for a research API.
The company notes. As part of our efforts to stay accountable for how we moderate and recommend content, we have built an API that includes public data about content and accounts on our platform. So, it began testing the first version of the research API in November.
The app is extending access
Now, TikTok is extending access to its research API to U.S. nonprofit academic institutions, the company announced Tuesday, Feb. 21. “We are expanding access to our research API to U.S. researchers affiliated with non-profit academic institutions. In addition to bringing more transparency to the content on our platform, we are eager to learn from researchers’ findings”. TikTok said on its Twitter account.
To apply for access and be approved, interested universities and researchers will need to be approved by TikTok’s U.S. Data Security (USDS) division. While this API will be made available to researchers around the world, it will start with academic researchers in the United States (with the intention of avoiding a U.S. ban) and expand even to NGO researchers as it builds capacity.
What data will they be able to access?
Researchers can access public account data, such as user profiles and comments, along with performance data, such as the number of comments, likes and favorites the user receives. They can also access public content data, such as captions, along with performance data, such as the number of comments, shares, likes and favorites the video receives. In addition, researchers can access public keyword search results data.
The initial announcement
The initial announcement came as the company was trying to prove that it is not a threat to US national security due to its parent company’s connection to China. Since then, the company has remained under scrutiny as the U.S. House of Representatives ordered its staff and lawmakers to wipe TikTok from any government mobile device due to security concerns with the popular video-sharing app last December.
At least 20 states have followed in the footsteps of the House of Representatives and banned TikTok on government devices. In addition, many universities are now also banning TikTok on their campus networks and devices, such as the University of Texas.