TikTok’s algorithm knows. People speak of the unseen program governing the platform’s “For You” page, where videos populate based on ones you’ve previously interacted with, as an omniscient, omnipresent god. The algorithm has figured out your every interest and hobby, every thought you’ve ever had. More than once, it’s been alleged to have figured out that a person is queer before they knew themselves. The machine genuinely feels like it’s handpicking videos just for you—which is why everyone should pay close attention when the app allows some people to turn it off later this month.
TikTok will soon allow users in Europe to disable the personalized feed. It’s an update meant to satisfy a component of the European Union’s Digital Services Act (DSA) that requires the internet’s largest social-media sites to let users opt out of being algorithmically targeted. The regulation, part of an aggressive push in Europe in recent years to rein in tech platforms, is geared toward better protecting people’s rights online and mitigating risks to democracy such as the spread of disinformation. For anyone who chooses to hide from TikTok’s all-knowing algorithm, the For You feed will become something like a “For Everyone” feed, filled with broadly popular videos that don’t take into account individual interests—or whatever the algorithm perceives those interests to be.