TikTok Ventures into AI Chatbot Territory with ‘Tako’

AI chatbots have gained immense popularity in the last few years, and it’s not surprising to hear that TikTok is now testing its own AI chatbot called “Tako”. Currently undergoing limited testing in select markets, Tako will appear on the right-hand side of the TikTok interface, positioned above the user’s profile and other buttons such as likes, comments, and bookmarks. Once users tap on Tako, they can ask it various questions about the video using natural language or seek recommendations for new content.

For example, while watching a video of King Charles’ coronation, Tako might suggest users ask, ‘What is the significance of King Charles III’s coronation?” Similarly, if users are looking for ideas on what to watch, they can ask Tako to recommend videos on a specific topic, like funny pet videos, for example. In response, the bot will provide a list of results that includes the video’s details, such as name, author, subject, and links to suggested videos. By clicking on a video thumbnail, users can directly access the content.

Testing and Market Expansion


App intelligence firm Watchful.ai discovered the bot during its public testing phase, which TikTok has confirmed. A spokesperson from TikTok stated, “Being at the forefront of innovation is core to building the TikTok experience, and we’re always exploring new technologies to add value to our community.” They further added, “In select markets, we’re testing new ways to power search and discovery on TikTok, and we look forward to learning from our community as we continue to create a safe space that entertains, inspires creativity, and drives culture.”

While Watchful.ai claims to have found the AI chatbot being tested on iOS devices in the U.S., TikTok clarifies that the current version of the bot is not publicly available in the U.S. It is, however, being tested in other global markets, including an initial limited test in the Philippines. Additionally, the bot will not be visible on accounts belonging to children.

Behind the scenes, TikTok is utilising an undisclosed third-party AI provider customised to suit its requirements. This modification does not involve the use of any in-house AI technologies from TikTok or its parent company, ByteDance.

Privacy Concerns


Upon the initial launch of Tako, TikTok informs users via a pop-up message that the bot is still considered “experimental” and its feedback “may not be true or accurate.” This disclaimer applies to all modern AI chatbots, including ChatGPT and Google Bard, among others. TikTok emphasises that the chatbot should not be relied upon for medical, legal, or financial advice. 

The disclosure also states that all conversations with Tako will be reviewed for safety purposes and, in a vague manner, to” enhance your experience.” Unfortunately, this is one of the challenges associated with using modern AI chatbots. As the technologies are relatively new, companies choose to log customer interactions and review them to improve their bots. However, from a privacy perspective, this means that AI conversations are not deleted after the chats conclude, which poses potential risks.

To address consumer privacy concerns, some companies have allowed users to manually delete their chats, just as the Snapchat app has done with its ‘My AI’ chatbot companion. TikTok is following a similar approach by enabling users to delete their chats. It remains unclear whether the AI chatbot logs data associated with the user’s name or other personal information, and the long-term data retention policies and privacy aspects of the chatbot cannot be determined at this time.

Due to security risks associated with AI chatbots, some companies have banned their use at work. Apple, for instance, restricts its employees from utilising tools like ChatGPT or GitHub’s Copilot to prevent the leakage of confidential data. Other companies that recently implemented similar bans include Bank of America, Citi, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan, Walmart, Samsung, and telecom giant Verizon.

Challenging Google’s Dominance


While most companies are experimenting with AI in various ways, TikTok believes that the chatbot could serve a purpose beyond answering video-related questions. It could potentially become an alternative method for users to discover content within the app, moving beyond traditional search boxes. If TikTok’s tests prove successful and the chatbot is publicly launched, it could pose a threat to Google, especially considering that Gen Z users are already turning to TikTok and Instagram as their primary search destinations for specific subjects. Although Google plans to introduce a conversational experience in search, an in-app AI chatbot on Tiktok could encourage younger users to bypass Google altogether.