TIKTOK says youngsters shouldn't use its app – but has no way of actually verifying their ages.
Absolutely anyone can bypass TikTok's "age check" in seconds, giving children access to an endless reel of inappropriate content.
One cyber-expert described avoiding TikTok's safety checks as "child's play" – and warned parents about the controversial app.
TikTok launched in 2017 and has quickly become one of the most popular apps among teens, used by hundreds of millions around the world.
But investigations have revealed the app plays host to deadly pranks, sexualised clips and has even harboured lots of paedos, which is why we launched TikTok Time Bomb – a series to raise awareness of the potential dangers on the app.
"Given reports of 53 percent of kids owning a mobile phone by age seven, parents should be very careful about the apps their kids use on them," said Adam Brown, a cyber-security expert at Synopsys.
Now The Sun can reveal just how easy it is to skirt around TikTok's age checks without a parent's permission.
When you read TikTok's terms and conditions, it expressly forbids minors from using the app without consent.
"If you are under age 18, you may only use the Services with the consent of your parent or legal guardian," TikTok writes.
"Please be sure your parent or legal guardian has reviewed and discussed these Terms with you."
And later on in the terms, TikTok adds that the app "is only for people 13 years old and over".
But TikTok does little to prevent youngsters skirting these rules.
TikTok time bomb
- TikTok has spread like digital wildfire, snapping up over 1.5 billion users since its global launch three years ago — including millions in the UK.
- On the surface, the world's fastest growing social media platform shows short clips of lip-syncing to songs or showing off dance moves but there’s a far more sinister side.
- It’s become a magnet for paedophiles as well as a hotbed for violent and extremist content, with TikTok predators exploiting the platform's young user base and lax security to prey on the vulnerable.
- We've seen kids as young as eight being groomed on TikTok, while other creeps take advantage of young girls posting sexualised content of themselves on the platform.
- And that's especially worrying on a site which is attracting millions more children every year, with 53 per cent of kids now owning a smartphone by the age of seven.
- That's why we launched our TikTok Time Bomb series — to make sure parents are aware of the risks their kids are being exposed to, and what they can do to better protect them.
- Everyone agrees social media can be a force for good, but it has to be used the right way and with proper controls in place.
- We want TikTok to better moderate its content so that it's not being left to kids to protect themselves online.
Anyone can download the app from Apple's App Store or the Google Play Store.
Once you're in, you can sign up with any email address – even a fake one, as you don't need to verify it.
The app asks for your age using a scroll wheel, but there's nothing to stop a child choosing a fake date of birth.
Then you choose a password and you're immediately shown a reel of content, much of which may be inappropriate for minors.
It's also possible to use the app without creating an account at all, though you won't be allowed to post any videos yourself.
"Bypassing that is child’s play for anyone who can put in a fake date of birth, as my daughter found," Adam told The Sun.
"TikTok has introduced the concept of parent control from a parent’s TikTok account, but this in fact allows very little control of the child’s app and no control over whether the app is set to public or private.
"For privacy, a parent must set ‘Private’ on the child’s phone and trust the child not to set it to public.
"Personally I found my own wannabe internet sensation quickly switched her app to public mode regardless."
Take control of TikTok – change these settings now
Parents should do the following immediately…
- Head into Settings > Privacy and Safety and look for the Discoverability heading at the top.
- Under that you'll see a setting called Private Account. Toggle this on.
- TikTok recommends your page to lots of other users to improve video circulation.
- Switch the setting off and the account will no longer be recommended to other users.
Shut out weirdos:
- In Privacy and Safety > Safety, you can prevent other users from interacting with you.
- Most of the settings are on Everyone by default, but can be changed to Friends or Off.
- You can prevent interactions on comments, Duets, Reacts, users seeing which videos you've liked, and also messages.
Restricted Mode ON:
- Restricted Mode tries to limit age-inappropriate content from appearing for children.
- It's not perfect, and works through using computer-scanning systems – so some dodgy content will inevitably be missed.
- 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.
TikTok does use moderators who try to filter out extreme or pornographic content from turning up on the app.
But mods can't catch all dodgy content online, so there's always the risk of unsafe clips sneaking through the cracks.
More worryingly for parents, much of TikTok's age-inappropriate content is allowed by the rules – putting kids at risk.
Parents who have children on TikTok should monitor the types of clips being viewed, according to experts.
It's also possible to change TikTok's app settings on a child's phone so that fewer inappropriate videos show up in their feed.
Don't trust TikTok and the tech giants – take control of your child's safety
Here's what Caroyln Bunting, CEO of Internet Matters, told The Sun…
- "It used to be that ‘stranger danger’ was the thing we prepared our children for when they were out and about on their own, but with the advent of social media, stranger danger can be much closer to home.
- "For the minority in society who set out to harm children, places where young people congregate are a magnet, and in today’s world that includes not only the biggest social media platforms, but any game, app or platform that allows children to connect with others online.
- "There is no doubt that these companies must do more to protect young people, but there are practical things parents can do today to minimise the risks their children face.
- "Use privacy settings at the highest level, teach your children only to communicate with those they know in real life.
- "Don’t shy away from the difficult conversations about online risks, and make sure you stay engaged and have open conversations about what they do when they are online."
A spokesperson from TikTok, which last week announced a new feature to allow parents to control what their kids view, told The Sun: "Promoting a positive and safe app environment for our users is a top priority for TikTok.
"We use both technologies and human moderation teams to identify, review and remove dangerous or abusive content.
"We have investigated every individual case that has been raised and removed all content that violates our Community Guidelines.
"TikTok is a platform for users aged 13 and over, per our Terms of Service, and we’ve given it a 12+ App Store rating so parents can simply block it from their child’s phone using device-based controls.
"If a user declares their age to be below 13, they are prevented from opening an account and their device is blocked.
"We have a number of protective measures in place to reduce the opportunity for misuse and we're constantly evolving our measures to further strengthen safety on TikTok.
"For example, we now prompt any new user under 18 to make their account private at set-up and again before they publish for the first time.
"We enable anybody – whether a TikTok user or not – to use our reporting function to flag any content or account they deem inappropriate.
"While our protections won't catch every instance of inappropriate content, we continue to rapidly expand our content moderation teams and improve our technologies and policies so that TikTok can remain a place for positive creative expression."
In other news, a recent viral TikTok trend saw teens starting fires with phone chargers and coins.
Dead viral app Vine has been reborn under a new name: Byte.
Teens were recently panicking over rumours that TikTok is shutting down.
And Instagram influencers are being propositioned with huge sums of money for sex on a daily basis.
Are you worried about TikTok? Let us know in the comments!
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