This April, TikTok clocked 2 billion downloads globally and saw a jump of 105% from the last quarter. Many believe that it’s going to surpass Facebook and WhatsApp by the end of the year and truth be told, I won’t be surprised. However, amid this crazy rise, some people are not so swayed away by TikTok’s glitz and popularity. Particularly, parents who are not sure if TikTok is safe for their kid. The notion about TikTok is not entirely misplaced, though. There have been instances of inappropriate content on TikTok, questions on privacy, and accusations of data sharing with China. So in this article, we will go through all the major issues of TikTok to check whether TikTok is safe for your child. Apart from that, we will also discuss the various privacy and data security issues, so TikTok users have an idea of what’s happening with their data. So without further delay, let’s go through the article.
Is TikTok Safe to Use in 2020
First of all, we will discuss TikTok’s content and what the company is doing to tackle the issues at hand. We have also provided some TikTok tips and tricks along the way so you can use the app safely and securely. After that, we will move to TikTok challenges and then explain Data Security and Privacy issues comprehensively. With all that said, let’s now begin and learn if TikTok is safe to use.
Before anything, we need to look into the kind of content that is published on TikTok to better understand if the platform is safe for you. I will discuss the issues pertaining to TikTok content first, and then move to what TikTok is doing to tackle these issues. The general consensus is that TikTok generates some of the most creative, inventive, and fun videos on the internet. Be it a lip-synced clip or a simple cooking hack demonstrated in 15 seconds, the videos make their way to all other social media platforms. Having said that, we can’t look away from the elephant in the room. Objectionable content has been published on TikTok in the past, and some users have reported that it continues to happen even today behind the veneer of modified hashtags. Users publish mature content with a slightly modified hashtag to easily bypass the keyword filter on TikTok.
Keep in mind, TikTok is pretty popular among teens and a recent survey suggests that users below 16 are the most active users on this platform. So sometimes these video clips surface on underage users’ feed despite the strict moderation employed by TikTok. If you take a brief look at the Parents’ review of TikTok on Common Sense Media, you would get a faint idea that there is much more on TikTok than just funny sketches with special effects. There have been instances where predators have targeted underage girls on TikTok with messages having sexual overtones. To prevent this, TikTok recently banned private messaging for users below 16. However, the problem is much bigger than that. By default, TikTok accounts are set to Public which means anyone can follow and message you, the moment you create an account. And it remains so until you enable Private mode under the settings page manually.
Having said that, the whole idea of TikTok is to become famous and garner thousands of likes and followers. It’s the exact antithesis of leading a private life so you can’t complain much if you have chosen to create content on TikTok. But you do have the option to enable Private mode, in case you want to limit your interaction with only approved followers. Even when your account is set to Public, you can restrict interactions like messages, Duet, Mirrors to just your friends.
What TikTok is Doing to Moderate the Content?
In 2019, the Federal Trade Commission fined ByteDance — the creator of TikTok– with $5.7 million over illegally collecting information on users under 13. After that, the company started making foundational changes to sanitize TikTok from objectionable content, especially for tweens. Currently, the minimum age requirement on TikTok is 13, but you will need parental consent to use the app. With Family Safety Mode, parents can authorize an account and further change the privacy settings of their child. TikTok also lets you set a passcode on the TikTok Settings page so your child can’t modify crucial privacy restrictions. In addition, parents can also limit screen time usage for TikTok from 40 minutes to 2 hours from their own smartphone.
Apart from that, TikTok introduced Restricted Mode last year which filters out inappropriate content that has suggestive dancing and revealing clothes. Along the same lines, TikTok now blocks search terms related to pornography. Among other things, if you are below 18 then you can’t purchase, send or receive virtual items on TikTok. Lastly, you can’t receive or send messages and host a live stream if you are below 16 so that is a good change on TikTok’s part.
While TikTok has definitely amped up its online safety measures, all these privacy safeguards hinge on parent’s active involvement, especially if your minor is on TikTok. There have been cases where underage users have changed the birth date to unlock private messaging, access unrestricted content, and more. So if your child is on TikTok, you should link your TikTok account to control the various privacy settings and limit your child interaction with strangers on the web.
2. TikTok Challenges
TikTok is popular for its unique challenges that are mostly organic and fun. Most often, brands, artists, musicians, marketing companies start a challenge on TikTok to publicize their product or simply to make a point. However, there is another dimension to TikTok’s challenges which are promoted by individuals. These are mostly death-defying stunts and self-harm acts meant to garner more likes and followers. Following the trend, TikTokers are tempted to take up the challenge to outsmart everyone else. The skull-breaker challenge being the recent one on TikTok which lead to serious injuries and death. So if you are a parent then I would suggest you to counsel your children not to give heed to such dangerous challenges on TikTok.
3. Privacy and Data Security
In the Content section, we dealt with privacy and learned about the various safeguards offered by TikTok to restrict unsolicited interaction from strangers. So here, I will dive a bit on the technical side and go through some of the controversies around TikTok’s data-sharing practices. In November last year, The New York Times reported that TikTok was under the National Security review in the US. The company was accused of sharing data with China, but so far nothing concrete has come out. TikTok has reassured that all user data — be it from the US, India, or Europe — are kept in data centers located in the US and Singapore. Nevertheless, the US went ahead and barred the US Military from using TikTok due to security reasons. And now, we are hearing that the US might bring a law to ban federal workers from using TikTok.
US is particularly alarmed by China’s National Intelligence Law (2017) which mandates companies to comply with intelligence-gathering operations, if and when asked by the Chinese government. As for TikTok, the company has maintained that it complies with local laws of the land where it’s operating the business. However, a Californian-based university student claimed that her draft videos were sent to two servers in China, backed by Tencent and Alibaba. While TikTok didn’t directly respond to the claim but clarified that it will no longer be using China-based moderators to review international content. Make of it what you will.
Further, a researcher named Matthias Eberl from Germany demonstrated that TikTok sends a bulk of data to Facebook and Appsflyer (a marketing company with more than 4500 partners). The data include device information, usage time, and the list of watched videos on TikTok. In addition, the researcher claims that even the search terms from TikTok are forwarded to Facebook which is a damning invasion of privacy. I would say if you are concerned about your TikTok activity data being sent to Facebook and 4500 different partners then don’t use TikTok at all.
The Verdict: Is TikTok Safe to Use?
As far as content on TikTok is concerned, there is definitely a pressing issue, especially for minors and we have underlined it in the first section. However, TikTok has also introduced a slew of measures to combat nudity, bullying, and safeguards to protect underage users from strangers. But the system is not full-proof as users can change the birth date and create a new account having all the adult privileges.
In that case, parents have to play an important role and monitor the privacy controls of their child through Familly Pairing. TikTok has now all the tools for parents to take advantage of. You can learn how to set parental controls for TikTok on Android and iOS devices by clicking on the link. To conclude, TikTok is definitely safe to use, but parents must be part of it.
Anyway, that is all from us. If you are not satisfied with TikTok’s content moderation or you are concerned about your privacy then you can choose to permanently delete your TikTok account in six easy steps. And if you want a TikTok alternative then go through our linked article to find the best apps like TikTok.