TikTok has announced a raft of changes to its default privacy settings for younger users as part of its ongoing effort to implement better systems to protect vulnerable members of its audience. Which, given the younger skew of its user base, is a particularly important focus for the short-form video app.
The biggest change will see all accounts created by users aged 13-15 now set to 'Private' by default. People under 13 are technically not allowed to sign-up for a regular TikTok account.
As explained by TikTok:
"Starting today, we're changing the default privacy setting for all registered accounts ages 13-15 to private. With a private TikTok account, only someone who the user approves as a follower can view their videos. We want our younger users to be able to make informed choices about what and with whom they choose to share, which includes whether they want to open their account to public views. By engaging them early in their privacy journey, we can enable them to make more deliberate decisions about their online privacy."
Which is a good approach - by restricting the audience for videos by default, TikTok is also educating younger users as to how these systems work, which could provide them with a better understanding of their privacy options moving forward.
In addition to this, TikTok is also implementing new restrictions on comments, engagement and the downloading of videos created by younger users.
- We're tightening the options for commenting on videos created by those ages 13-15. These users can now choose between 'Friends' or 'No One' for their account; the 'Everyone' comment setting is being removed.
- We're changing Duet and Stitch settings to now make these features available on content created by users age 16 and over only. For users ages 16-17, the default setting for Duet and Stitch will now be set to Friends.
- We'll only allow downloads of videos that have been created by users 16 and over. Other users can decide whether they want to allow downloads of their videos, though for users ages 16-17 the default setting will now be changed to Off unless they decide to enable it.
- The "Suggest your account to others" setting will be switched off by default for users ages 13-15.
These are good updates, which should offer additional protection for younger users. Of course, there are still ways to subvert the sign-in process, and to get around the initial, sign-in age gate. But in terms what TikTok is able to do itself, these extra limitations should offer more protection, and reduce unwanted exposure in the app.
"Through our partnership, Common Sense Networks will provide additional guidance on the appropriateness of content for children under 13 as we work to create an enjoyable and safe viewing experience."
Amid the app's massive growth over the past two years, TikTok has also had to rapidly update its processes in order to better protect younger users, while also ensuring that their data is not being harvested and used in unethical, even illegal ways.
The platform has faced a range of legal challenges on this - in July 2019, the UK Information Commissioner launched an investigation into how TikTok handles the personal data of its young users, and whether it prioritizes the safety of children on its network. In February 2019, the FTC fined TikTok a record $5.7 million for illegally collecting the names, email addresses, pictures and locations of kids under age 13. And in August last year, French officials announced a new investigation into TikTok's data-gathering practices, primarily due to concerns around its measures to protect younger users.
TikTok has also been banned in some regions over its failure to protect children from exposure to offensive content, while just recently, a damages claim was made on behalf of a 12-year-old girl from London over "loss of control of personal data".
It's a key element of concern, and with reports suggesting that more than a third of the app's users are under 14 years of age, it's of particular significance that TikTok takes additional steps to address such issues.
Which is why these new measures are important. As noted, they won't address every concern, but it's good to see TikTok taking proactive measures to better protect its younger, more impressionable audience.