A popular video-sharing social media app has been in the news recently due to data privacy and child safety concerns. This prompts the question, is TikTok safe?
What is TikTok?
For those who might be wondering who or what is a TikTok? You’re not alone. According to an article by Slate, TikTok is especially popular amongst teens and tweens. CNN quoted a study that found that 60% of TikTok users in the US are between the age of 16-24. This marks TikTok as the go-to app for Gen Z. With the young demographic of TikTok users, many of us who do not fall into this age bracket might be wondering what all the fuss is about.
The social media app TikTok allows users to share short video clips, similiar to Vine. Typical TikTok content includes lip-syncing to songs or sound clips, memes, dance challenges and more. Popular videos that have gone viral may have been seen by millions of users. Users can create their own content to share and follow other accounts. Similiar to Instagram, TikTok has also become a popular place for content creators and influencers alike.
TikTok provides a platform for sharing fun content such as short lip-syncing videos.
TikTok and Privacy Concerns in the News
Despite the hype, in the U.S. there are two main concerns in regards to TikTok, namely, censorship and the storage of personal data. TikTok is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance. In 2017, ByteDance aquired a similiar app from the U.S. called Musical.ly. After Musical.ly was aquired it was essentially merged into TikTok.
Basically, because TikTok is a Chinese app and content can be censored in China, there are fears that content might be censored in other countries where TikTok is used. According to CNBC, TikTok has responded to these concerns by claiming that they do not censor content.
Additionally, lawmakers in the U.S. have sounded the alarm over concerns that user data is being sent to China. Currently, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States is reviewing the Musical.ly aquisition deal – some believe that this investigation has to do with data sharing concerns. TikTok also denies the allegations that they send personal data from the U.S. to China.
As a consequence of the data privacy concerns, the US Army and the US Navy have banned their employees from using TikTok on phones owned by the government. The TSA has also banned their employees from using TikTok. The potential issues related to censorship and data sharing have been reported on by numerous news outlets, however, it appears that additional research is still needed to verify these claims.
Is TikTok safe for kids?
TikTok has also been in the news because of the concerns for the safety of its younger users. Since many tweens and teens use the app, a series of issues have arisen. Vice reported on one of the aspects of the “dark side” of TikTok – some accounts have been found trying to solicit nudes from underage users. Due to the abundance of young users on the app, some parents are concerned about the potential for child predators on the app. Cyberbullying and online harassment are other problems that have been reported in connection with TikTok. TikTok has a minimum age policy, but some young users lie about their age in order to make accounts. In the digital age, parents must keep in mind the safety of their children and be aware of potential privacy concerns when allowing their children to use all social media apps, not just TikTok.
So, is TikTok Safe?
Unfortunately, the answer remains unclear. From the data privacy issues being brought up by government agencies to growing concerns over child safety, there are reasons to be wary of using this trendy new app. Despite these concerns, TikTok is being used as a creative outlet for its users who can easily edit and create video content to share with others. One fact that can’t be denied is the popularity of this app – the app was downloaded 750 million times in 2019. Perhaps a better question is, for those wishing to use TikTok, how can TikTok be used safely?
TikTok Safety Tips
There are a number of ways to stay safe while using TikTok. In order to address the safety and privacy concerns, TikTok has created an account called @Tiktoktips to advise users on how to use TikTok’s safety tools.
For parents, the “Digital Wellbeing” feature on TikTok can help protect young users from offensive content. This feature allows users to limit the screen time and filter content.
Setting one’s account to “private” rather than “public” can help protect users. For private accounts, only approved users can interact with your account by means of following, liking and commenting on your videos or sending private messages. Most of these settings can be easily adjusted on the app, so that users can decide who can find and interact with them on TikTok.
For those who have a fear of missing out on TikTok content but are worried about the data privacy concerns, it is possible to look up TikTok videos without making an account! This is one easy solution to stay in the know about the latest TikTok memes. These tips are reflective of the current features of the TikTok; like many apps, as TikTok continues to grow in popularity, it is possible that new privacy related features will emerge – this is something users should keep an eye on during 2020.
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