TikTok tightens up privacy controls for young users

TikTok has announced sweeping changes to how the accounts of younger users are handled to shield minors from potentially inappropriate interaction with strangers. 

On Wednesday, TikTok’s Head of US Safety, Eric Han, said that any accounts registered to those of the ages between 13 and 15 will now be private by default, and so there are limits on who can view and comment on any content they post. 

When an account is set to private, only approved followers can view and interact with content created by the account holder on the video-sharing platform, and furthermore, users between 13 and 15 can now choose between allowing only friends to comment on their videos — or no-one. 

TikTok’s “Suggest your account to others” option has also been set to “Off” by default for this age group.

“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,” Han commented. “By engaging them early in their privacy journey, we can enable them to make more deliberate decisions about their online privacy.”

The switch to private-by-default is not the only change impacting this age group. From now, Duet and Stitch will also only be available to users aged 16 and over and will be set to friends only by default. 

TikTok Duet is a video collaboration feature for creating content based on an original piece, and having these videos displayed side-to-side. Stitch is another way to ‘remix’ content by plucking elements out of an original clip and building upon it. 

Both options are ways for TikTok content to spread further and to facilitate communication between users, but when minors and their privacy are thrown into the mix, app developers need to be careful — or potentially face accusations of failing to safeguard the information and privacy of younger audiences. 

Another important change TikTok has implemented is only permitting videos to be downloaded when they have been created by those aged 16 and over. For users between 16 and 17 years of age, the default option to allow their content to be downloaded will be set to “Off,” unless they choose to permit it. 

As TikTok, owned by ByteDance, has become popular with young and teen users worldwide over the past few years, the app began implementing additional privacy controls to help bring the app into line with regulations designed to protect child privacy online, such as the US’s child privacy act COPPA. 

In the US, TikTok for Younger Users caters to users aged 13 and below.

The app has also restricted direct messaging for younger users, as well as the buying and sending virtual gifts. In 2020, TikTok introduced “Family Pairing,” which allows parents to remotely control their child’s account. 

“We know there is no finish line when it comes to protecting users,” Han says. “We’ll continue to evolve our policies, work closely with regulators and experts in minor safety, and invest in our technology and teams so that TikTok remains a safe place for everyone to express their creativity.”

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