It's the world's most popular app. And you've probably never heard of it.

The lip-synching app TikTok often surpasses Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat as the most downloaded app in the world,  and while on the surface it may seem safe, our cyber experts warn parents of its significant dangers.

When was acquired by Chinese developers ByteDance, it had already racked up 100 million monthly active users - making it the world’s most downloaded iOS app. The re-brand has seen those already-outrageous numbers quadruple.

Existing users were migrated overnight to their new TikTok accounts, which retains the core features of the original - basically, providing a platform for users to view, create and share their own 60-second music videos, lip-synching along to a wide variety of popular music styles. The new interface gives users slight advanced features and effects.

TikTok’s dominance has seen it spark viral trends and launch internet celebrities. The app, which is called Douyin in China, is “known to be popular among celebrities,” according to Wikipedia.  

And it was temporarily banned in Indonesia  for displaying “vulgar, violent, gory, pornographic and harmful” content.

What could possibly go wrong?

With so much user-generated content being uploaded on a daily basis, TikTok is riddled with the same issues of quality control as YouTube. But unlike YouTube, there is no option for “SafeSearch” on this platform.

As a result, TikTok is rife with porn, images of self-harm and “attention-seeking ‘dares’ by kids putting themselves at risk to get likes and acceptance,” notes Family Zone cyber expert Martine Oglethorpe of The Modern Parent.

A recent article in the South China Morning Post featured TikTok posts like ‘I risked my life, please like!’ in a report on the dangerous extremes some children are resorting to gain acceptance on the app.

The App Store rates TikTok at 12+, but Common Sense Media rates it at 16+ - and a parent review on that site, headed “Beware of X-Rated Content!!’ expresses why:

This app seemed really fun. The kids loved making their own videos. I didn't like the fact that you can upload them for all to see, but I didn't allow the kids to do that anyway. However, as I sat browsing through the app myself and watching other videos, I came across very sexually inappropriate content! I had no idea!!

Then there’s the issue of privacy. Like most other social apps, TikTok is set to “public” by default. And there are only two privacy settings available: private, which restricts viewing to the creator of the video; and public, which opens the floodgates to all users.

Changing the setting to “private” must be done manually.

TikTok also allows strangers to direct message children - adding to its allure to paedophiles and potential predators - and offers in-app purchases of up to $99.

So what’s a parent to do?

That said, many parents decide that the fun - and creative potential - outweigh the danger. Others may be entirely unaware that their children have the app.

“It is certainly imperative parents do their homework if they are going to allow their child on apps that are generally not recommended for their age,” insists Oglethorpe, whose Melbourne-based consultancy The Modern Parent frequently advises parent and student groups. “That means finding out all you can on how to set it up safely, recognising the risks and having the appropriate and ongoing conversations with your child.

“But as I am often reminded in my student workshops, if we are allowing them to play in public places, we must recognise that the cognitive brain development of most young people is simply not there yet to make some of the important decisions and engage in the critical thinking that is expected of them at this level of playing.”

Keeping up with all the latest apps and games can be a full-time job for today’s parents. Luckily, you don’t need to go it alone. Family Zone cyber experts and app reviews will help you stay up-to-date in an ever-changing digital landscape. Learn more 

Featured image credit: weRSM

Topics: Parental Controls, Screen time,, online predators, tiktok

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