Apps

TikTok is testing an in-app AI chatbot called ‘Tako’

Comment

A TikTok logo is seen displayed on a smartphone
Image Credits: Mateusz Slodkowski/SOPA Images / Getty Images

AI chatbots, like ChatGPT, are all the rage, so it’s no surprise to learn that TikTok is now testing its own AI chatbot, as well. Called “Tako,” the bot is in limited testing in select markets, where it will appear on the right-hand side of the TikTok interface, above the user’s profile and other buttons for likes, comments and bookmarks. When tapped, users can ask Tako various questions about the video using natural language queries or discover new content by asking for recommendations.

For instance, when watching a video of King Charles’ coronation, Tako might suggest that users ask “What is the significance of King Charles III’s coronation?”

Or, if users were looking for ideas of something to watch, they could ask Tako to suggest some videos on a particular topic — like funny pet videos. The bot would respond with a list of results that include the video’s name, author and subject, as well as links to suggested videos. From here, you could click on a video’s thumbnail to be directed to the content.

Image Credits: TikTok screenshot by Watchful.ai

The bot was discovered being publicly tested by app intelligence firm Watchful.ai, and TikTok confirmed the tests are now live.

“Being at the forefront of innovation is core to building the TikTok experience, and we’re always exploring new technologies that add value to our community,” a TikTok spokesman told TechCrunch. “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 place that entertains, inspires creativity and drives culture.”

However, though Watchful.ai says it found the AI chatbot in tests on iOS devices in the U.S., TikTok says the current version of the bot is not currently public in the U.S., but it is being tested in other global markets, including an early limited test in the Philippines.

We also understand the bot will not appear on minors’ accounts.

Behind the scenes, TikTok is leveraging an unknown third-party AI provider that TikTok has customized for its needs. That modification does not include the use of any in-house AI technologies from TikTok or parent company ByteDance.

Upon first launch, TikTok advises users in a pop-up message that Tako is still considered “experimental” and its feedback “may not be true or accurate” — a disclaimer that applies to all modern AI chatbots, including OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google’s AI, among others. TikTok also stresses that the chatbot should not be relied on for medical, legal or financial advice. (We understand the wording in the image below may reflect an earlier version of the bot rather than the current tests.)

Image Credits: TikTok screenshot by Watchful.ai

The disclosure also notes that all Tako conversations will be reviewed for safety purposes and, vaguely, to “enhance your experience.” This is one of the complications that come with using modern AI chatbots, unfortunately. Because the technologies are so new, companies are opting to log customer interactions and review them to help their bots improve. But from a privacy standpoint, that means the AI conversations are not being deleted after chats end, which poses potential risks.

Some companies have worked around this consumer privacy concern by allowing users to delete their chats manually, as Snap has done with its My AI chatbot companion in the Snapchat app. TikTok is taking a similar approach with Tako, as it also allows users to delete their chats.

It’s unclear if the AI chatbot is logging data associated with the user’s name or other personal information, though. The long-term data retention policies or privacy aspects of the chatbot also couldn’t be determined at this time.

Image Credits: TikTok screenshot by Watchful.ai

The security risks of AI chatbots have led some companies to ban such bots at work, including Apple, which has gone so far as to restrict employees from using tools like OpenAI’s ChatGPT or Microsoft-owned GitHub’s Copilot over concerns about confidential data being leaked. Others who have recently enacted similar bans include banks like Bank of America, Citi, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan, as well as Walmart, Samsung and telecom giant Verizon.

Why consumers would even want an AI chatbot in TikTok is another matter.

While most companies are experimenting with AI in some way, shape or form, TikTok believes the chatbot could do more than just answer questions about a video — it could also become a different way for users to surface content in the app, beyond typing into a search box.

This could become a threat to Google if TikTok’s tests were successful and the chatbot publicly rolled out, given that Google has already noted how Gen Z are turning to TikTok and Instagram as the first place they go to search on certain subjects. Soon, Google will begin rolling out a conversational experience in search, but if TikTok had its own in-app AI chatbot, that could encourage younger users to bypass Google altogether.

Update, 5/25/23, 9 AM ET: At the time of publication, TikTok shared additional information about Tako on its Twitter account. We’ve updated with additional details, where relevant.

More TechCrunch

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

1 day ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

1 day ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo

Sony Music Group has sent letters to more than 700 tech companies and music streaming services to warn them not to use its music to train AI without explicit permission.…

Sony Music warns tech companies over ‘unauthorized’ use of its content to train AI

Winston Chi, Butter’s founder and CEO, told TechCrunch that “most parties, including our investors and us, are making money” from the exit.

GrubMarket buys Butter to give its food distribution tech an AI boost

The investor lawsuit is related to Bolt securing a $30 million personal loan to Ryan Breslow, which was later defaulted on.

Bolt founder Ryan Breslow wants to settle an investor lawsuit by returning $37 million worth of shares