TikTok Added Beauty Filters to Videos Without Telling Users

In May, TikTok users began noticing that the app was applying beauty filters to their videos without asking for permission or alerting them after.

A recent report by Technology Review found that the effect was only applied to some Android users and lasted for a few days.

Technology Review contacted TikTok, who acknowledged that there was an "issue" which was resolved by the app, but spared any details on what exactly the issue was or how it happened.

TikTok, like most other social media platforms, offers a wide range of effects for users to apply, including different "beauty" filters. However, unlike with May's "bug," it was up to the user to actively select the filter.

At the time, TikTok users began posting videos pointing out the applied filter, purposely covering parts of their face to cause it not to work in a bid to demonstrate it. Users like Tori Dawn, who gained over 300,000 views, began sharing the discovery in videos.

Soon enough, the clip was being duetted by other users on the app discovering the same thing—that their jaws had been made slimmer, and some claimed their skin had also been smoothed.

"You see that?" Dawn asked in the clip, as she covered half her face, causing the filter to stop working. "As long as that's still a thing, I don't feel comfortable making videos, because this is not what I look like."

@toridawn817

congrats tiktok I am super uncomfortable and disphoric now cuz of whatever the fuck this shit is

♬ original sound - Tori Dawn

Technology Review also spoke to Amy Niu, a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin who studies the impact of beauty filters, who said that in China some popular apps automatically add beauty filters. Niu said that apps like WeChat, the most popular social media app in China, and Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, include beauty filters on the camera as the default.

In October 2020, Google made the decision to change their guidelines in regards to beauty filters. "We conducted multiple studies and spoke with child and mental health experts from around the world, and found that when you're not aware that a camera or photo app has applied a filter, the photos can negatively impact mental wellbeing," reads Google's update.

"These guidelines suggest that face retouching settings should be off by default so you choose when you want to turn them on. If face retouching filters are on, this should be clearly indicated in the product experience. And when it's off, it should stay off. We've steered away from references to 'beauty,' by using iconography and language that is value-neutral, so you can decide what retouching means to you," it continues.

Similarly, Snapchat also uses "value-neutral" language to describe such filters, and does not apply any automatic filters.

TikTok logo on a cell phone.
In this photo illustration, the TikTok app is displayed on an Apple iPhone on August 7, 2020 in Washington, D.C. A report found TikTok applied beauty filters to users without permission. (Photo Illustration by Drew Angerer/Getty Images) Drew Angerer/Getty Images