TikTok protects children with new privacy features aimed at under-16s

TikTok makes under-16s’ profiles private by default, blocks comments from strangers on their videos and prevents ‘stitching’ and ‘duetting’ in new privacy crackdown

  • TiKTok announced the changes will go live around the world today  
  • Move is designed to offer extra privacy and protection to under-16s on the app 
  • The features have been praised by the children’s charity the NSPCC 

TikTok is introducing a raft of updates to improve the privacy and safeguarding of children on the platform. 

Users under the age of 16 will now have their accounts set to private by default, which means the only people who can view their content are approved followers.

Strangers will also be prevented from commenting on videos made by under-16s, meaning minors will have just two options – allowing comments from friends only, or turning of comments entirely.  

Children’s charity NSPCC has praised the package of updates, which are designed to protect young and vulnerable users on the app.

The changes will be enforced today to all of TikTok’s users around the world.  

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Users under the age of 16 have their accounts set to private by default and this setting means the only people who can view their content are pre-approved followers (stock)

In further updates, TikTok said it was making changes to the ‘duet’ and ‘stitch’ function on the app for under-16s.

These TikTok features allow users to take videos which are already on the site and incorporate them into their own content. Stitch weaves a five-second clip into the start of a new video and duet plays both the old and new video side-by-side. 

But as part of the new package of changes, the wider TikTok community will be unable to duet or stitch videos from under-16s. 

Users aged 16 and 17 will also see a change to their stitch and duet functions, as the default setting will be changed from everyone to just friends. 

TikTok is also removing the ability for users to download the videos of under-16s. 

Alexandra Evans, TikTok’s head of child safety in Europe, said the changes were ‘groundbreaking’.

‘They build on previous changes we’ve made to promote minor safety, including restricting direct messaging and hosting live streams to accounts 16 and over and enabling parents and caregivers to set guardrails for their teen’s TikTok account through our Family Pairing feature,’ she said.

‘We know there is no finish line when it comes to minor safety, and that is why we are continuously evolving our policies and investing in our technology and human moderation teams so that TikTok remains a safe place for all our users to express their creativity.’

The video app has become increasingly popular in recent years, particularly among younger mobile users, but TikTok has come under pressure to improve its security settings and processes around young people.

The comments section of videos made by under-16s is also receiving a privacy-focused update which will prevent strangers from commenting, with the only available options being allowing comments from friends, or from no one (stock)

TikTok received a $5.7 million fine from US authorities in 2019 to settle charges that it illegally collected personal information from children.

The Federal Trade Commission said at the time the penalty by the social network was the largest ever in a children’s privacy investigation. 

‘The operators of Musical.ly – now known as TikTok – knew many children were using the app, but they still failed to seek parental consent before collecting names, email addresses, and other personal information from users under the age of 13,’ said FTC chairman Joe Simons in February 2019..

‘This record penalty should be a reminder to all online services and websites that target children: We take enforcement of COPPA very seriously, and we will not tolerate companies that flagrantly ignore the law.’

TikTok’s updates also come ahead of the anticipated introduction of Online Harms legislation, which is expected to be brought before Parliament this year.

This will place greater emphasis on social media firms to comply with a duty of care to their users.

Online safety groups have praised the social media site for its actions.

Andy Burrows, head of child safety online policy at the NSPCC, said: ‘This is a bold package of measures by TikTok and a hugely welcome step that will reduce opportunities for groomers to contact children.

‘It comes as abusers are taking advantage of the pandemic to target children spending more time online and we urge other platforms to be similarly proactive rather than wait for regulation to come into effect.

‘The full benefits of these changes will be felt when age assurance measures are put in place in September when the Age Appropriate Design Code comes into force.’

Pandemic sparks dramatic rise in app use, report says 

Restrictions relating to the coronavirus pandemic greatly accelerated mobile app usage in 2020 – particularly among older users, a new report says.

The annual State of Mobile report from analytics firm App Annie suggests around 143 billion dollars (£105 billion) was spent on mobile apps in 2020.

Time spent on apps in general, and in particular social networking apps, rose drastically, as millions of people looked to stay connected for work and to socialise with friends – according to the figures more than 218 billion apps were downloaded globally last year, up 7% on 2019.

TikTok, in particular, was highlighted as an app which had grown massively during 2020 by App Annie’s research.

The report said that among Android users in the UK, the average hours spent on TikTok each month had nearly doubled from 10.8 in 2019 to 19.8 in 2020.

App Annie said its findings suggested that the video-sharing app was on track to reach more than 1.2 billion active users globally this year.

Theodore Krantz, chief executive of App Annie, said the world had “forever changed” in 2020, sparking a major shift in how people used their devices.

“While people stay at home across the world, we saw mobile habits accelerate by three years,” he said.

And nowhere was this change more apparent than in older mobile device users, with the report finding that the biggest increase in mobile app usage had been among the over 45s.

In the UK, those aged 45 and over spent 27% more time using the most popular apps than in 2019, compared to 17% more time for millennials and 18% for those aged 24 and under.

TikTok, group video calling app Houseparty and messaging platform WhatsApp were named as the three apps to see the biggest growth in the UK during 2020, highlighting how people had turned to online communications tools in order to work and study, as well as stay in touch with friends and family while social distancing measures were in place.


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