Should I be concerned about my kids using TikTok?
This question was answered on December 22, 2022. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.
Understanding the risks of any app or social media platform that your children use has become an essential parental responsibility, but TikTok poses some unique considerations.
The central issue with TikTok for most privacy and security advocates is that it’s a Chinese-based company that must comply with the Chinese government’s broad authority to require sharing of its data.
Since things like location, phone numbers, and pictures of your child are all available through the app, long-term tracking of your child by the Chinese government is possible with unknown implications for the future.
The parent company, ByteDance recently admitted that various employees were using the app to surveil multiple journalists that were reporting on the company: https://bit.ly/3FNVfDz
In addition, FBI director Christopher Wray expressed his concerns that the Chinese government could use TikTok to mount misinformation or influence campaigns at a recent hearing of the House Homeland Security committee.
He also referred to the technical possibility of the app compromising the device that’s using it.
The potential of the Chinese government to subtly influence US citizens should be a concern for all users of TikTok, regardless of their age.
The TSA and US military branches banned the use of TikTok on government devices back in 2020 and numerous state governments have also taken that position.
Setting boundaries and rules for using TikTok, especially with younger children is something that should be openly discussed.
As with any social media platform, it’s possible that your child could be exposed to content that isn’t appropriate for their age and if they engage with it, cause the recommendation algorithm to present more of it.
If you’re going to let your child use TikTok, you really should have an agreement that you can spot-check what they are seeing to make sure the recommendation engine hasn’t led them down an inappropriate rabbit hole.
Privacy Protection Tips
If you are going to allow TikTok to be used, there are a few things you can do to somewhat protect their privacy.
The first is not to allow the app to access their contacts, which they pitch as a way to quickly connect with friends that also use it.
Another step is to use the phone/email/username option instead of using another account such as Facebook, Instagram, Apple, or Google to sign up for a TikTok account.
The app will also ask for permission to access your location, which I would deny as there’s no value added in giving TikTok your location.
I’d suggest that you set the account to ‘Private’ to limit who can follow your child to those that are approved and also turn off the ‘Suggest Your Account to Others’ option in the privacy settings.
Using a pseudonym instead of your child’s real name is a good idea from a privacy standpoint.
Finally, be sure to discuss the same warnings about scams and suspicious activity that you would with any other social media app as anything as popular as TikTok is a huge target for those with ill intent.
About the author
Ken Colburn of Data Doctors on December 22, 2022