TikTok has decided to boost privacy measures for its underage users, the popular video-sharing social-media company announced.
TikTok’s popularity is being driven by teens — the company reported in 2019 about 60 percent of its 26.5 monthly users are between the ages of 16 and 24, and these latest measures are an attempt to make the platform safer for its youngest users, according to the company. TikTok is owned by Chinese company ByteDance.
“Starting today, we’re changing the default privacy setting for all registered accounts ages 13-15 to private,” the statement said. “With a private TikTok account, only someone who the user approves as a follower can view their videos. We want our younger users to be able to make informed choices about what and with whom they choose to share, which includes whether they want to open their account to public views. By engaging them early in their privacy journey, we can enable them to make more deliberate decisions about their online privacy.”
TikTok Privacy Settings
Additional changes for the under-18 TikTok crowd include limiting comments on videos created by users 13-15; limiting Duet and Stich to only users over 16; changing the default setting for Duet and Stitch to “friends” for 16- and 17-year-old users; and prohibiting downloads of videos by users under 16.
Duet allows a user you to build on another user’s video by recording their own video alongside the original as it plays. Stitch meanwhile allows users the ability to clip and integrate scenes from another user’s video into their own.
The “suggest your account to others” option will also be set to off by default for 13-15-year-old users., the company added.
A limited TikTok app for users under 13 launched last year, will now partner with parent watchdog group Common Sense to deliver appropriate videos for younger TikTok-ers.
The moves are being applauded by the National PTA and online safety watchdog groups across the spectrum.
Watchdog Groups Applaud
“National PTA applauds TikTok for advancing safe and age-appropriate experiences where teens can have fun and be creative,” Leslie Boggs, president of the National PTA, said in the statement about the move. “With TikTok’s thoughtful changes to teens’ privacy settings, National PTA continues to recommend that families sit down together, explore the app’s safety controls and tools, and have open and ongoing conversations to help teens be safe and responsible online. This is particularly important to ensure teens’ accounts are set up right from the start. PTA looks forward to continuing our important work with TikTok to educate families across the country about online safety.”
The privacy-positive moves come in the wake of harsh criticism of the app and its approach to privacy. Last August for instance, the Trump administration issued an Executive Order calling the app a “threat.”
“TikTok automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users, including Internet and other network activity information such as location data and browsing and search histories,” the E.O. said. “This data collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information — potentially allowing China to track the locations of federal employees and contractors, build dossiers of personal information for blackmail and conduct corporate espionage.”
A plan to cut off access to TikTok in the U.S. was abandoned at the last minute last September, after ByteDance agreed to sell off a big stake in ownership to Oracle and Walmart.
Besides privacy concerns, experts have pointed out that the app is plagued by security flaws. But the move to protect teens on the beleaguered, yet wildly popular, app is drawing a positive reaction.
“Putting these new measures in place is another positive step forward in TikTok’s safety and privacy efforts,” Stephen Balkam, CEO, Family Online Safety Institute said. “Thinking ahead about what is appropriate for teens of different ages creates an opportunity for these younger users to learn and grow responsibly on the platform, and serves as an important teachable moment when they do gain those abilities.”
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