Instagram and Snapchat are sooo 2019. Today it’s all about TikTok, the Beijing-based streaming app that has upwards of 500 million active users. Problem is, kids aren't the only ones who can’t keep away.
A recent investigation found children as young as eight were being groomed on TikTok - and young users were being bombarded by explicit messages. Experts warn that the company's casual attitude toward cyber safety poses the biggest threat of all.
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TikTok is used by kids mainly to create and share lip-synching and dancing videos to popular music. But it also has a direct message feature and invites live streaming and public commenting.
Its popularity has soared in recent months, fuelled partly by Instagram’s decision to conceal the number of “likes” posts attract. TikTok zoomed in to fill that gap for young users desperate to gauge their social standing with peers.
Playgrounds for predators
Wherever children go, paedophiles and predators follow. That’s the sad truth of the online world we live in.
YouTube and Snapchat, and even games like Roblox, Fortnite and Minecraft, have all - to some extent - been infiltrated by creepy adult users looking to groom, watch or otherwise interact with potential child victims.
But what sets TikTok apart is its troubling disregard of users’ cyber safety.
Safety measures that don’t measure up
“TikTok does not have the same safety features as some of the more well-known apps and does not routinely remove accounts that have been flagged as potentially those of a predator,” warns cyber expert Susan McLean, an internationally acclaimed expert on social media with a long and distinguished career in law enforcement.
TikTok’s developers explain on the website that, yes, parents can set their child’s profile to “private.” But the site goes on to admit that “even with a private account, profile information – including profile photo, username, and bio – will be visible to all users.”
The US Navy has banned TikTok from government-issued mobile devices, citing security concerns. Australia's Department of Defence has now followed suit.
Major privacy concerns
Instead of instituting measures to keep users safe and their details private, TikTok passes the buck to mums and dads, encouraging them to “counsel” their children about revealing their age, address or phone number.
“TikTok also received the biggest fine in US history for gathering data on kids and selling it,” McLean says. But even that $8 million penalty would have been a drop in the bucket for a company worth more than $110 billion.
Security fears around the app have even prompted both the Australian and US governments to ban its use by their armed forces.
A TikTok spokesperson told The Daily Mail, 'In our Safety Centre we offer a library of educational resources for teens and their families, including safety educational videos and a safety blog series.”
Exactly how many views - let alone “likes” - those safety videos have received remains an open question.
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