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TikTok: What Parents Need to Know About Online Safety

TikTok has quickly become the favorite among teens and adults alike, providing unlimited entertainment during these long quarantine days. But is there something more we should know about keeping our children safe while they use the app? This article from isp.com has your answers.

TikTok: What Parents Need to Know About Online Safety

The fast-growing social media platform reported more than 800 million monthly active users as of April 2020, beating out social media giants like Reddit, Snapchat, Twitter and Pinterest to snag the number seven spot out of most popular social media networks. That’s pretty impressive for a brand that’s relatively new on the scene.

Users as young as 13 can join the TikTok community. In fact, according to Omnicore, 41% of TikTok users are 16 to 24, and about half of TikTok’s global audience is under 34. Omnicore also reports 56% of TikTok users are male and 44% are female.

How does TikTok work?

You can download the free app to a smartphone. From there, you can upload your videos that are up to 60 seconds long. Sounds, songs and filters can be added to each video clip. Viewers can like, comment on and share the content.

You don’t even have to ever upload any videos to interact in the TikTok community. You can follow accounts and discover videos based on hashtags and topics. You can get your content seen by more people by adding hashtags to your content, which may lead to it going viral on the network.

TikTok has some unique features compared to other video-streaming apps like YouTube and Instagram. One is that you can see all the users who look at your profile.

TikTok’s popularity has no signs of slowing down — with 1.5 billion downloads worldwide and a value of $75 million as of February 2020. That valuation makes it the world’s most valuable startup company, according to Brandastic.

With TikTok’s rising popularity with teens, this is one social network that’s definitely worth watching for parents and guardians. Here’s what you should be aware of and how to keep your teens safe on TikTok.

How safe is TikTok?

Any time your child is sharing personal information online, they make themselves vulnerable to issues like cyberstalking, harassment, cyberbullying, as well as being sent inappropriate content. The content your teen creates could be shared inappropriately, as well.

As a parent, it’s important to be aware of how using TikTok could make your kid vulnerable and how the app may even be a national cybersecurity threat.

Personal safety

Let’s look at personal safety first and the risks users incur when using the TikTok app.

  • The access given to the camera/audio while using the app: Recording a video for upload to TikTok requires giving the app access to the smartphone’s camera and audio. This is common with video-capture apps, but the risk is that the app, or someone connected to it, could steal video or audio recordings that were never intended to be uploaded to or made public on TikTok.
  • Possible location tracking: Enterprise security company Proofpoint found TikTok collects location information and uses GPS tracking. That’s concerning, since those location features don’t relate to the video creation that is being done on the app.
  • Free-for-all access to download your videos and/or make your private videos public: In 2020, the cybersecurity company Check Point identified several vulnerabilities in the TikTok app, including one that would allow attackers to make private videos public.
  • Upload unauthorized videos to your account: Check Point also found a vulnerability where hackers could manipulate TikTok accounts and content and upload unauthorized videos. Inappropriate videos could be reputation-damaging for a teen who’s trying to get into college or who wants to get a job.
  • Reveal personal information: Another identified vulnerability is that hackers could reveal personal information saved on the account, like an email address.
  • And more.

What can parents do?

Like any online usage, parents should pay attention to how their children use TikTok, including who they interact with, the content they’re viewing and the content they’re sharing.

First, it helps to lay a foundation of internet safety best practices. Talk to children about how they use the internet, apps and social media channels. Have open conversations about the content they’re following and sharing.

You might want to institute screen time management. There are parental control apps where you can limit the amount of time your teen spends on certain apps. You should also talk to your teen about the potential dangers of social media apps, like forming relationships with people they don’t know, which could be inappropriate or disingenuous.

TikTok does have a safety center for parents. There, the network explains how to use private account settings and how to use its Family Pairing feature, which allows parents to get more involved with their teen’s use of the social network. Family Pairing enables screen time management for TikTok and direct messaging restrictions. It also has Restricted Mode, which can restrict the appearance of inappropriate content on your teen’s account.

Here’s how to set up Family Pairing

  • Go to your device’s app store, search for TikTok and install the app.
  • Make sure your TikTok and your teen’s TikTok account are logged in. On both devices, head to Settings, then Digital Wellbeing to choose the Family Pairing process. You’ll have to scan a QR code on your teen’s device to pair the accounts.
  • Explain other TikTok privacy features to your teen and work with them to manage their settings.
  • Make your teen’s account private. With a private account, a TikTok user can approve or deny followers and restrict messages and uploaded content to followers only. To make your teen’s TikTok profile private, have your teen tap the Settings icon, then tap Privacy and Safety. Turn on Private Account.
  • Take advantage of block/report features. To block an account, your child can go to the profile of the account they want to block. Tap the Settings icon, then tap Block and follow the steps. Your teen will be able to report the account to TikTok.

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