SOCIAL MEDIA : between algorithmic tools and data collection ( spying? ) – Tiktok and instagram case

In today’s world, 63% of the global population has internet access ( by ), including Switzerland. Among this connected population, Generation Z is particularly notable for their online presence, with 98% owning a smartphone and 56% having an account on at least one social media platform. The usage of social media surged during the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to grow. To understand the nuances of platforms like Instagram and TikTok, and to explore whether users are truly being « spied » on, we must first examine the differences between these platforms and identify the most popular ones.

We will provide a comprehensive overview of the most used social media apps and their user demographics to elucidate why Instagram and TikTok stand out. These platforms, used extensively by younger generations for content creation and consumption, offer unique features that cater to their users’ preferences. While LinkedIn serves a more professional purpose and is less related to the consumer-driven nature of Instagram and TikTok, the latter two platforms excel in engaging users through visual content and viral trends. This analysis will help us understand the specific appeal of Instagram and TikTok, and why they are particularly significant in the discussion about data privacy and user behavior.



Snapchat primarily attracts a younger audience, with the largest user group being those aged 18-24, totaling approximately 80 million users. The platform’s unique selling point is its ephemeral content, where snaps and messages disappear after being viewed, encouraging spontaneous and frequent interactions. Snapchat’s legacy lies in its innovative approach to social media, pioneering features like Stories and augmented reality (AR) filters, which have been widely adopted by other platforms.


TikTok’s largest user demographic is also 18-24-year-olds, with around 150 million users in this age range. It skyrocketed in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic, becoming known for its viral dance trends, life hacks, and sound promotions. TikTok’s legacy is its ability to harness and amplify viral content through an algorithm that quickly learns and adapts to user preferences, creating a highly engaging and addictive user experience.


Instagram’s most significant user base is aged 18-24, with approximately 160 million users. Initially a simple photo-sharing app, Instagram has evolved into a multifaceted platform with features like Stories, Reels, and IGTV, offering a dynamic and interactive experience. Its legacy is rooted in its ability to blend visual storytelling with social networking, maintaining its status as a trendsetter in the social media landscape.

Twitter (Known as X)

Twitter’s primary user group is aged 25-34, with about 80 million users. Known for its real-time communication capabilities, Twitter allows users to share brief, impactful messages and engage in discussions through hashtags and tagging. Its legacy lies in its role as a platform for public discourse, where news breaks, trends start, and movements gain momentum, often influencing global conversations.

Facebook (Meta)

Facebook’s largest demographic consists of users aged 45 and older, with around 200 million users in this age group. As the first major social media platform, Facebook revolutionized online social interaction by introducing features like the News Feed, Marketplace, and Facebook Dating. Its legacy is its foundamental role in shaping the social media landscape, providing a comprehensive suite of tools for communication, entertainment, and commerce to a broad and diverse audience.

To go further

Instagram and Tiktok have one commun thing: the age range and also the target audience: Ourselves. As student, we are in this range and are most likely to be on these apps, not to cite twitter. The content and also the people there and their transparency are what the audience like somehow. Ads are proven to be easily put there also.

However, confidentiality and privacy laws, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union and the Swiss Federal Act on Data Protection (FADP), are designed to safeguard individuals’ privacy. These regulations set strict guidelines on how personal data can be collected, processed, and used. Despite these protections, the question arises: are personalized ads a result of companies using our data responsibly, or are they indicative of invasive surveillance? Understanding the distinction is crucial, as these laws aim to ensure that data usage is transparent and consensual, rather than covert and intrusive.

1. Algorithmic, as what you like is recommanded by instinct.

Social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram use sophisticated algorithms to tailor content to individual user preferences, creating a highly personalized experience. These algorithms analyze user interactions—such as likes, comments, shares, and viewing time—to continually refine the content they display.

This feedback loop not only keeps users engaged by showing them what they already enjoy but also risks creating echo chambers by limiting exposure to diverse viewpoints. Influencers further shape trends by promoting specific products, which algorithms then amplify based on user engagement.

Additionally, ad personalization is enhanced as algorithms learn from users’ responses to ads, ensuring future advertisements align more closely with their interests. While this dynamic adaptation keeps content relevant, it also reinforces existing preferences and narrows the breadth of information users encounter.

2. Surveillance on the needs related to marketing… even when google preferences is diabled? is it ethic?

We sometimes feel like we are being spied on, but the reality is more complex. For example, you might find ads for an article you discussed with a friend but never searched for, or see promotions for a product you have no interest in, creating a sense of being monitored. Despite indicating your preferences by liking or disliking certain content, specific ads continue to appear, fostering feelings of surveillance and skepticism towards social media and devices.

This sense of being watched arises because algorithms analyze vast amounts of data, including your interactions, to predict your interests. It’s easy to misconstrue this as spying, especially when targeted ads seem uncannily accurate. The truth is that your online activity, even indirect actions like lingering on a post, contributes to these predictions. While Google and other platforms offer settings to limit ad tracking, many users are unaware or overlook these options.

So, are we truly monitored? Actually, no. Companies and social media platforms operate within the boundaries of the terms and conditions we agreed to—often without reading them. These agreements grant certain rights to these companies, allowing them to use data to tailor experiences. Understanding this can ease some concerns, but the pervasive nature of targeted ads can still feel intrusive. Ultimately, our own actions and consent to privacy policies shape our digital experiences more than we might realize.

And you, what do you think about it?

Written by Nancy Akre


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