TikTok is a video-sharing social media platform, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, where users make and share short-form videos that range from three seconds to one minute long.
It’s the latest app to take its turn on the social media throne, following MySpace in 2005, Facebook in 2008, and most recently Instagram and Snapchat from around 2014.
Like it or not, there is no denying the recent popularity of TikTok. Its success is in large part because it offers newer and more unique ways of interacting, which no other popular app did before.
Although the app launched in 2016, 2020 was the year that TikTok took over. This is perhaps due to the Covid-19 pandemic which meant many people suddenly had a lot more time on their hands to watch silly videos, send them to friends, or even partake in making the silly videos.
Friend or Foe?
Despite its worldwide popularity, many people and governments have cybersecurity concerns about TikTok, with the Indian government even banning the social media platform in June 2020, along with 58 other Chinese phone apps.
Security concerns largely center on the fact that TikTok is a Chinese company. According to the Indian government, this makes it a threat to national security because Chinese company’s by law have to share information with their government.
As the popularity of the app continued to grow among American teens, the US launched an investigation into TikTok in 2019, concerned that it potentially gave the Chinese government a bigger reach than ever before.
Despite these concerns, no one has shared solid proof that TikTok is ‘stealing’ information from anyone.
The reality is that the type of data Facebook gathers is likely to provide far more detailed intelligence on individual users than TikTok.
That said, whichever platform you use – TikTok, Facebook, Twitter or anything else – it’s always best to start from the assumption that any data you share *may* be made public or fall into other people’s hands at some time.
If you decide to use TikTok – and the same goes for all social media platforms – be careful with what you share, and don’t assume any inherent data security or privacy.
Six tips to stay safe on TikTok
Whether you are looking to keep yourself safe on the app, or you want to protect your children and young people, here are some tips to help you maximize your security and privacy when using TikTok.
1. Ensure that your TikTok account is private
Making your account private essentially means that you have to approve someone before they can follow you. This means you can ensure that only your friends can access to your videos and likes.
Head into settings > Privacy and Safety and look for the Discoverability heading.
Below this, you’ll see ‘Private Account’. Toggle the button to activate this feature.
2. Don’t allow other people to find you
By default, TikTok will share your content by featuring it on the For you pages of people you don’t know. If you want to prevent strangers from seeing your videos, it is important to turn off ‘Suggest your account to others’.
Switch the setting off and your account will no longer be recommended to other users, and it will also prevent other people from finding the account more generally, for example via search engines.
This is also located in the ‘Privacy and Safety’ section.
3. Don’t allow interactions
TikTok users can interact with your account and content in multiple ways: they can view or download it, direct message you, and duet with your videos.
The default setting for these interactions is on, but you have the option to change it to ‘Friends’ (i.e. only the people you have allowed to follow your account can interact with your content) or ‘Off’.
To limit how other users can interact with your videos go to Privacy > Safety.
Blocking interactions stops comments, duets, and reactions, and prevents people from seeing which videos you’ve liked, and even your messages.
That last point is particularly important as messages are a way for TikTok users to chat privately – and could be abused by someone with the wrong intentions.
4. Manage screen time
TikTok is highly addictive with the average user spending a whopping 52 minutes scrolling through short videos per day.
If you wish to limit time on the app, go into Settings and privacy > Digital Wellbeing > Screen Time Management, and then select your time limit.
If you set your limit to 30 minutes per day, you will then be cut off for the rest of the day once you’ve met the limit.
During set-up, it’s possible to choose a passcode to prevent a child changing this setting in future.
5. Use Restricted Mode for children’s accounts
This is one of the most important settings for any parent with a child using TikTok.
‘Restricted Mode’ prevents age-appropriate content from appearing for children. While it’s not 100% accurate, it does a pretty good job and is worth using.
It’s also possible to set a passcode to prevent your child from changing this setting later on.
You’ll find this in Settings > Digital Wellbeing > Screen Time Management.
6. Take advantage of Family Safety Mode
This is an important setting that allows you to assign the account as a ‘Parent’ or ‘Teen’, to give you remote access over the child’s TikTok.
Once connected to the account, the parents can control:
- Screen Time Management: how long their child can spend on TikTok each day.
- Direct Messages: who can send message to their child’s account or turn off direct messages completely.
- Restricted Mode: restrict certain types of content that think isn’t appropriate for their child.
It’s possible to manage all this from your own smartphone, so you can make sure your child is as protected as possible at all times.
This setting is in Settings > Digital Wellbeing > Family Safe Mode.