TikTok has tightened the privacy settings of tens of millions of children’s accounts, in a move intended to limit the ways potential groomers can interact with them on the app.
TikTok is a short form video app and they announced that the accounts of all users who are under 16 will default to private, meaning they will have to proactively approve any requests from other users to follow them. The move also stops other users from downloading under-16s’ videos, or using them as part of the Duet and Stitch features, a key part of TikTok’s distribution model that allows people to integrate others’ videos into their own.
Another change is that only the friends of users aged 13 to 15 can comment on their videos. Users aged 16 to 18 will also default to only friends being able to use their videos for Duetting and Stitching.
According to The New York Times internal data, more than a third of TikTok’s 49 million daily users in the US were 14 or younger.
“The privacy rights and online safety of our community is a top priority for TikTok, and we place a particular emphasis on the privacy and safety of our younger users, which is why we’re making these significant changes” Elaine Fox, head of privacy at TikTok in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said in a statement.
These changes are the latest in a series by TikTok intended to boost minors’ security on the app. “This is a bold package of measures by TikTok and a hugely welcome step that will reduce opportunities for groomers to contact children” Andy Burrows, head of child safety online policy at the NSPCC, a UK children’s charity.
These changes came as abusers are taking advantage of the pandemic targeting children spending more time online. Eva Fog Noer, a Danish child safety expert is not so sure that these changes would be effective enough. “Hindering the core functionalities, and prohibiting them and their parents the choice of being open or private, is not the way to go” she said. Children will always find a way around it.