TikTok App – including Musical.ly
Is the TikTok (formerly Musical.ly) app safe?
A complete app review for parents.
What is the TikTok app?
Note: On August 2, 2018, all Musical.ly accounts were rebranded as TikTok. For all practical purposes, the Musical.ly app no longer exists! If you’re wondering where our very popular Musical.ly app write-up went, please keep reading. Everything you need to know about the combined app is below!
App Store Description: “TikTok is a global video community. We make it easy for you to watch awesome short videos AND you can also make your own videos by capturing those funny and memorable moments to share with the world. Spice up your videos with our special effects filters, fun stickers, and so much more. Life’s moving fast, so make every second count.” (Apple App Store Link)
On November 9, 2017, Bytedance Technology Co. acquired Musical.ly, Inc for US $1 billion. Bytedance also owns the company TikTok and, on August 2nd of 2018, merged TikTok with the musical.ly app and kept the name TikTok. In China, the app is known as Douyin and has over 300 million monthly active users, much bigger than Musical.ly’s reach.
March 2019 update: TikTok has recently surpassed one billion installs worldwide!
Category: Photo & Video
APP Store rating: 12+
- Infrequent/Mild Cartoon or Fantasy Violence
- Infrequent/Mild Mature/Suggestive Themes
- Infrequent/Mild Sexual Content and Nudity
- Infrequent/Mild Alcohol, Tobacco, or Drug Use or References
- Infrequent/Mild Profanity or Crude Humor
What do parents need to know about TikTok?
Does TikTok have any parental controls?
If your child was on Musical.ly, they’re now a Tiktok user. As of August 2, 2018, everyone who used Musical.ly woke up to find that the look and feel of the app changed completely over to TikTok.
Is there pornographic content? When it comes to finding pornographic content while doing public searches, there is some. There is a hidden doorway to a Google search through the Help Center in the “Privacy and Settings.” Parents, remember, these hidden Google searches do not obey the “limit adult content” in Restrictions. Sadly, there’s nothing that can be done in Restrictions to control those Google searches. Covenant Eyes is the only service we know that forces a Google Safe Search, even in hidden browsers.
Parents, remember, even if your child sets their account to private following the instructions below, your child can still search for inappropriate content.
The app’s creator says age 13+ only, please. Although the app isn’t classified as social media, it still must comply with COPPA and underage data collection. Even then, we’re uncomfortable with middle school students using this app unless parents are well aware of the risks.
March 2019 update: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fined TikTok a record $5.7 million after failing to obtain parental consent for users under 13. TikTok collected names, emails, phone numbers, biographies, and photos of children under 13 (all of which by default is public access). The formal FTC complaint included reports of adults contacting children through the app.
In response, TikTok is now shuttling users under 13 years old to a limited, separate app experience. From what I understand, this will happen automatically (as long as your child has the correct age in their profile–also there is nothing stopping someone older than 13 from putting in a birth date under 13 so they can use this part of the app). In this new app experience, personal information will not be shared and there will be limits on content and user interactions. For example, users will be unable to share videos, comment on videos, message with other users, etc.
TikTok has also launched six safety videos. They show users how to report inappropriate content, enable restricted mode, limit amount of time spent on the app, control who comments on their videos, control who is able to message them, and a general video to encourage respectful behavior to all users.
Wherever the kids are is where the predators are. Make no mistake. Before long, TikTok will experience some of the same predatory issues as Musical.ly now that it’s thrust itself into the American spotlight with this change. Just today, we heard a story about a young girl who posted a video of her lip syncing and within hours, she received a message from a man with his own video of him masturbating to her video (she didn’t have her privacy settings locked down).
To prevent predatory access, please see the screen shots below for engaging some decent privacy settings. TEACH kids who use this app to NEVER share their QR Code (in the user’s profile) with strangers.
Related post: Tricky People – Stranger Danger in the Digital Age
Some parental controls exist. Use them! These controls are similar to Musical.ly. In the user’s profile, click the 3 dots in the upper right corner. Then select “Privacy Settings.” Then click “Privacy and Safety” where you see the options shown below. For young users, please toggle off “Allow Others to Find me” and toggle on “Private Account” at a minimum. For additional protection, limit interactions with comments, duets, and messages to “friends” or “off.” Under the digital well-being setting, you can limit app use to 2 hours per day and/or enable restricted use, which restricts videos not appropriate for all ages. Parents can also set a passcode so that kids can’t change these.
Deleting the app. Maybe you decide that even with these parental controls that you want the app deleted. There are a few extra steps beyond just deleting it from your phone and this will actually delete the account. Manage My Account –> Add phone number (if needed) –> Thinking about removing your account? –> Send Code –> Enter number –> Continue (two times) –> Delete Account. Also remember that if your child is using an Apple device, that they will still have access to the app in the Cloud. The most foolproof way to ensure that it is not downloaded again is to turn off the app store. Check out the section “What if an app was already downloaded” in the related post below for more tips!
Related post: 3 Reasons to Turn off the App Store
Hashtags are always a mess. Eventually. Musical.ly found this out the hard way. We did some searches using some typical offenders like “twerk,” “nudez,” and others within TikTok. Most of the obvious, problematic hashtags didn’t turn up any results.
Songs can have explicit lyrics. True, yes. Kids can create their own music videos using any of thousands of popular songs. There’s no way to control this.
There are in-app purchases – be careful! Musers can purchase coins (up to $99.99 worth of them!) and these are shared with other musers to encourage their creativity! How kind. If you’re an iPhone family, be sure to toggle off “In-app purchases” in the Restrictions (or Screen Time if you’re running the iOS 12 beta).
Related post: iOS 12 Screen Time Set-up
You can link with other social platforms. In the muser’s profile, there’s a spot to add both an Instagram or YouTube account. This is significant, since once that link is made, TikTok gains access to a ton of information, including contacts. Read the privacy concerns below.
TikTok collects a TON of information about its users. Take a look at the types of information it collects from musers (per its Privacy Page):
- Information you give us. You give us information about you when you register for and/or use the Platform, including your name, age, gender, address, email address, social media login details, telephone number and financial and credit card information and your photograph as well as your language selection.
- Information you choose to share from your social networks.If you choose to link your social network or public forum account (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google or WeChat) to the Platform, you will provide us or allow your social network to provide us with information from your social network or public forum accounts, including your contact list.
- Technical Information we collect about you. We automatically collect certain information from you when you use the Platform, including your IP address, location-related data (as described below) or other unique device identifiers, your browsing history (including content you have viewed in the Platform), Cookies (as defined below), your mobile carrier, time zone setting, mobile or device information including the model of your device, your screen resolution, operating system and platform and information regarding your use of the Platform.
- Behavioral information we collect about you. We also collect information regarding your use of the Services, e.g. your comments on our Platform or any other user-generated content and video content that you generate through and broadcast on our Platform. In addition, we link your contact or subscriber information with your activity on our Platform across all your devices using your email or social media log-in details.
- Location data.
- Your phone and Facebook contacts.
- Metadata uploaded with each video.
I think people would be surprised to know that although this is a long list of bullets, it’s actually quite consistent with most social media platforms. But, we believe it’s helpful to show a list like this to kids who use the app to remind them that nothing is private online! Nothing!
The bottom line – is TikTok safe for your kids?
We have serious concerns about the safety and protection of kids on this app. COPPA would say that kids need to be at least 13 to use this app, but even then, parents should approach this app with caution. If Musical.ly struggled to keep up with protecting kids with “just” 100 million users, then I shudder thinking about a platform approaching a billion users. If you’re going to allow your middle school son or daughter to use the app, please be fully aware of the risks noted above. In our opinion, the predator risks are just too high.
Now What? Have you Heard of Bark?
Are you interested in having greater insight into the social media platforms that your kids are using? Bark is one of the best platforms we’ve tested. They’re constantly looking for ways to dig further into apps like TikTok, to alert parents. We trust them and we think you should, too!
*There are affiliate links throughout this post because we’ve tested and trust a small list of parental control solutions. Our work saves you time! If you decide that you agree with us, then we may earn a small commission, which does nothing to your price. Enjoy!