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TikTok

TikTok App Review - is it safe?

Updated February 27, 2021

Related posts about TikTok:

What is TikTok? Is it safe?

Note: On August 2, 2018, all Musical.ly accounts were rebranded as TikTok. For all practical purposes, the Musical.ly app no longer exists. 

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)

Important>On November 9, 2017, Bytedance Technology Co. (headquartered in Beijing, China) acquired Musical.ly, Inc for US $1 billion and merged it with TikTok.

March 2019 update: TikTok 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
Vocabulary worth noting: muser = a TikTok user

How to set up TikTok’s parental controls:

The most important piece of information in TikTok is the user’s birthday. It’s almost impossible to change an incorrect birthday (this article explains how to submit a support ticket to request a birthday change). All users ages 13-15 (no one under 13 is supposed to use the app) automatically have the following features disabled (as of January 2021):

  • No direct messages (DMs)
  • Automatic private accounts
  • Comments are limited to “Friends” or “No one”
  • No videos can be remixed or downloaded

For users ages 16-17, the default video settings are “Friends” for remixing videos and downloads are defaulted to “off,” but users can changes these settings.

The second most important feature in TikTok is Parent Pairing. TikTok allows parents to “pair” their device with their child’s device in order to control privacy, searching, content, and more remotely from the parent device.

If your child is under 16 but used an incorrect birthday in order to by-pass the controls above, then you can manually find parental controls here:

TikTok Parental Controls

1. Switch to a private account – this will prevent complete strangers from contacting your child (step 1 in the screen shot above).

2. Change the “Allow others to find me” toggle – an additional layer of privacy to prevent your child’s account from showing up in search results.

3. Opt out of personalized data– this prevents user data from being gathered. And for a company being investigated for privacy violations that’s also based in China, it’s a good idea.

4. Change all SAFETY settings to “friends” – the default safety setting for “who can post comments,” “who can duet with you,” “who can react to your videos” is “Everyone. Although making the account private should ensure strangers can’t find your child, these settings make it so that your child can’t invite strangers in.

5. Enable Time Management and Restricted Mode – you can find these under “Digital Wellbeing” under “Privacy and safety.” These help with screen time and blocking mature content – both require a 4-digit passcode, which means parents can set them.

But, please note, the Restricted Mode settings still allow mature content through. We received this message from a concerned mom:

I see that restricted mode is on and I’ve set all the privacy/safety settings but the videos are all inappropriate so far. During the test run, the first video we watched had questionable content and used super foul language, the second video that we watched was a play on ejaculation, and the third was an ugly video with more foul language at which point I decided that was enough! Do you know if that is just the way it is or if maybe I missed something in setting it up? I’m thinking if it’s just impossible to restrict every “f-bomb” and all the sexually suggestive content…

TikTok Digital Wellbeing Settings

Bonus: Check “following” and “followers” from time to time –  just a good idea for any child who isn’t at least 16 to ensure they’re sticking to your rules (see screen shot above).


What else do parents need to know about TikTok?

TikTok allows direct messages (DMs). Most social platforms do – including Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This is just a feature to be aware of – not so much because kids might send something dumb, but to make them aware of what could be sent to them by strangers that could be disturbing or exploitive.

Is there pornographic content in TikTok? Honestly, not much. The bigger issue is flat out foul language and explicit lyrics. Everywhere. There is a hidden doorway to a Google search through the Help Center in the “Privacy and Settings.” This is why it’s important on an iPhone to set “Limit Adult Content” in Screen Time. For Android, your best bet is to lock in Safe Search with a DNS block like CleanBrowsing

The challenges. Oh, the challenges. A few are funny. Some are ridiculous. Others are reckless (licking toilet seats during COVID) and have been cruel and dangerous (tripping, mocking, etc.). In the race for views, under-developed brains do really under-developed and horrible things. BUT THIS SHOULDN’T SURPRISE US. When adults give kids powerful apps and adolescent brains make poor choices, this is on us.

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 that has more limitations. 

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.

Remember – wherever the kids are is where the predators are. For public accounts, there are always going to be trolls. And men looking for pretty, young girls. Parents, just be really open and honest with your kids about this fact. 

Related post: Tricky People – Stranger Danger in the Digital Age

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

TikTok relies on #hashtags. 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, which was a pleasant surprise. 

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 Screen Time. The mom who emailed us before Christmas in 2020 saying her daughter spent $10k on TikTok did not have a very Merry Christmas.

Related post: iOS Parental Controls – how to turn off in-app purchases

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. There’s a reason the US Government is investigating TikTok for National Security reasons. 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.
  • Messages. 
  • 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?

Although the parental controls above are good, recent evidence points to TikTok acting more like malware, collecting as much user information as possible.  In addition to the privacy concerns, the biggest risks are vulgarity and just the “I want to be a TikTok Star!” pull that is so heavy. This app is all about views and views = popularity. It can be quite destructive to the mental health and time management of teens. 

In our opinion, TikTok is an age 15+ app when you weigh all of the features and risks above.  


Now What? 2 amazing ways for parents to keep up:

  1. Monitor social media by using BARK (here’s our affiliate link)! It’s the only tool that monitors social media activity for distress.
  2. Download the Protect App today! Almost 500 mini-lessons for your busy, awesome family! PYE built Protect as the best way for busy families to stay current. It’s the future of internet safety learning!
Protect App CTA - Blue
Tap/click the image to learn more about our Protect app! Quick tips for busy families.

 

NEW Protect Young Eyes Logo (2020)

*There may be 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! 

 

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