Making an app like TikTok is what everyone wants. Or not?

Succes of TikTok
Time and time again the news is about TikTok, on the one hand due to its success and on the other because of their unconventional background processes. The app has about 1 billion users worldwide and is very popular among young people. TikTok was the most downloaded app of 2022. The concept is a goldmine, but the app also has some downsides.

Where does the success of TikTok come from?

TikTok is successful for a reason. It is an easy and fast way to get information out into the world. In addition, the algorithm helps to ensure that the content reaches the right people. TikTok is often used to spread protests and raise awareness of oppression. TikTok has also helped to revive the book market, as bookstores are now filled with tips from “BookTok”. There are many opportunities for businesses or music to go viral, making it a popular tool in marketing strategies.

Unfortunately, the success of TikTok is also due to its addictive factor. Because “just scrolling” on the app is not really a thing. A number of tricks have been used to keep the user engaged with the app.

The algorithm

TikTok is one of the first social media platforms that shows content based on an algorithm. This algorithm is so cleverly designed that the app knows exactly what your interests are. If you look at something long enough, the app sees it as interesting and shows you more of it. You end up in a “bubble” where you only see what you like.

No sense of time

Have you ever paid attention to the time while scrolling through TikTok? The app often doesn’t show the time, and the clock on your phone disappears with some functions and devices. You literally lose track of time. Before you know it, you’ve been watching videos for an hour, and you’re still not done.

The possibility of infinite scrolling makes it worse. Your brain doesn’t get a signal that the app is done. The app is never finished, there is always another video waiting for you. Additionally, it’s difficult to see how old a post is on TikTok. It’s not immediately clear to the user if the content is still relevant. This gives TikTok the ability to show old content to the user if there’s no new content available.

@tamarcimentyou haven’t been paying attention♬ Montrose – Le Matos

TikTok has set a limiter that allows you to limit your time on the app. You can set this for yourself, so you can decide how long you want to spend on TikTok.

Storing data

To give users exactly what they want, data storage is necessary. This often happens with apps, so that the app can follow the user’s patterns and act upon them. TikTok takes it one step further. The app knows exactly how the user moves and what interests him/her. The app also has the ability to share data with third parties. In addition to the usual profile information, the app stores user content and messages exchanged in the app, contacts, purchase information, location data, advertisements, measurement data from other websites or apps, phone clipboard, and much more.

The downside of TikTok’s success

The success of TikTok means that the average user opens the app about 19 times a day and spends about 1 hour a day on it. This is particularly harmful for young people.


The algorithm is part of a strategy to set up a filter bubble. Unfortunately, a filter bubble does not always have a positive outcome. A filter bubble means that you only come into contact with things that you already like or agree with. In the worst cases, it can lead to polarization and incitement in society.

Mental health

Thanks to the algorithm, users can easily get caught in a downward spiral. Maybe you’re not feeling so well, and you come across videos that make it worse. By watching them for a long time and being interested in them at that moment, you’ll get more and more of this content. The algorithm that prioritizes ‘attractive’ people doesn’t help either. In addition, online bullying, grooming, and fraud are common on the app.

Privacy violations

Due to the amount of information the app stores and the way this data is used, the app is not always in line with the GDPR we are used to in Europe. In 2020 Anonymous even called the app “Chinese Spyware”. TikTok can even take information from other social media platforms, such as Facebook. It is often not clear exactly what information is being collected. But it certainly shares this with third parties, such as business partners, service providers, and advertisers. In addition, in 2023, it was decided that Dutch government officials are no longer allowed to have the app on their phone. The United States even wants to go so far as to completely ban the app.

Do you want an app with the success of TikTok, but in an ethical way?

When creating an app (especially a social media application), ethical issues come into play. While TikTok seems to focus on collecting personal data, there are other ways to approach this. Awareness and ethical behavior are becoming increasingly important, making your business more sustainable and creating more loyal customers.

UX design that keeps mental health in mind

When it comes to user-friendliness, there is a fine line between the “convenience” and “healthy use” of an app. Infinite scrolling may be easier than pagination, but it also makes users less aware of the amount of content they are viewing at once. In addition, an option for a time limit in the app settings is not a bad idea. This way, you give your users the choice of how much time they want to spend on your app.

After loosening the control of the amount of time your users spend on the app, it is important to monitor the posted content. There are smart solutions for this, such as AI. Decide which content you do not allow on the app, and do not allow it. This includes polarizing or negative content that can have a negative effect on the well-being of your users.

Anonymize data for analysis

Monitoring users is necessary to improve your app and make it more user-friendly. Therefore, you cannot go without storing data. However, you can anonymize user data. This removes all personally identifiable data and allows you to focus on where the app is getting stuck, which features are attracting the most visitors, and which are attracting the least. You don’t need names, ages, or other personally identifiable data for these processes.

With cookies, you can still show users what interests them, if they agree to the cookies. Avoid a filter bubble by occasionally presenting different popular content. Perhaps you can show content with different opinions on the same topic.

Choose a hosting-digital agency with an ISO 27001 certification

By having the app built and maintained by an agency with an ISO 27001 certification, you will already meet some security and privacy-related requirements. This is because an agency with ISO 27001 is typically required to anonymize data and store it on a server located in the EU. It prevents data from falling into the hands of third parties. It provides confidence and security regarding the handling of personal data and other data.

Curious what Toomba can do for your business?

At Toomba, we love brainstorming and building apps. We approach concepts with a commercial and ethical perspective, so that we can create a great product for the user and our client. We also work in accordance with ISO 27001 and value cybersecurity highly. Curious about what we can do for you and your business? Contact us for a free introduction!

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