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Cyber safety experts reveal how much data TikTok collects from its younger users

by uma
gawdo

 

TikTok was the most downloaded social media app in the world in 2020 and is particularly popular in children. In fact, young users aged ten to nineteen made up 25% of TikTok’s users in 2021, the largest share of all age groups. Whilst the app is a great platform to use fun filters that change your appearance, it is important to consider your child’s data security and safety when using the app. 

Cyber security experts at VPNOverview.com decided to investigate just how safe your child’s data is in the hands of these apps and goes on to give privacy and safety advice. TikTok’s privacy policy was studied to reveal what types of data they collect from ‘regular users’ as well as ‘younger users’, aged 12 and below. 

What is the ‘Younger Users’ version of TikTok?

For children under 13, TikTok has created a ‘younger users’ version of the app to comply with Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) that limits what data the app can collect from them. It is not a redesign of the app made for kids, but rather an absence of features from the regular version. 

Less data is collected from TikTok’s younger users compared to users aged 13 and over. Younger users also cannot publicly share personal information, including videos or profile details. 

Still, the app collects a significant amount of information regardless. According to TikTok’s privacy policy, it collects information such as: name, birth date, username, password, the IP address of your child’s device, browser details and location. 

It is important to note that children can set up a regular TikTok account simply by changing their birth date. If this is the case, your child could be at risk of much more data being collected – detailed below is the difference in data collection between a regular users account and a younger users account.

What data does TikTok collect?

By default, TikTok collects a lot of data about user activity. They share this data with third parties, like their business partners, service providers, and advertisers, among others. The following is what TikTok collects about its users on both the regular app and the ‘Younger Users’ version, according to the company’s privacy policy. 

INFORMATION COLLECTED BY TIKTOK REGULAR USERS
(AGED 13+)
YOUNGER USERS
(AGED 12 AND BELOW)
Login information Username and password Username and password
Personal information Date of birth, proof of identity or age* Date of birth
Contact information Email and/or telephone number Email and/or telephone number
Profile information Profile photo, profile video, and information disclosed on the user’s profile
Device information IP address, user agent, mobile carrier, time zone settings, identifiers for advertising purposes, model of your device, the device system, network type, device IDs, screen resolution and operating system, app and file names and types, keystroke patterns or rhythms, battery state, audio settings, and connected audio devices Device ID, IP address, web browser type, and version
Location Location information based on SIM card and/or IP address, precise location data (such as GPS)* Country-level location
App activity Preferences, list of followers, and list of following Video watches, time in the app, and general usage data
User content Photographs, audios, and videos the user uploads or creates, comments and livestreams made by the user, clipboard data*
Contacts Phone contact list, Facebook contact list
In-app purchases Purchases made, date and time when purchases were made, amount spent
Payment information Payment card numbers or third-party payment information (such as PayPal)

How to set up a safe TikTok account for kids

  • Sign up with a unique username or email. It is not recommended to sign up using another app, like Instagram or Google. The most secure option is to use a username or email that doesn’t relate to your child’s identity in anyway (no real names). It’s a good idea to create an email just for social media in case the account gets hacked, which is known to happen on other social media like Facebook.
  • Have your child choose interests or skip this option.
  • The app will ask if it can send notifications
  • The app will ask you if it can sync device contacts. Say no to this because it gives TikTok access to details about your device and contacts.
  • Set a profile picture. Encourage your child or teen to use an avatar instead of a selfie or other photograph, since this picture will be visible to everyone, whether their account is public or private.
  • Set up the privacy security settings. To find these settings, go to the homepage and find the Profile icon in the bottom right corner. Next, click on the three lines at the top right corner and click on “Privacy.” From that menu, you’ll be able to change several security settings. Make sure your child has a private account by clicking the slider until it turns green, this will make sure that only approved users can follow their account and watch videos.

Safety

A large part of keeping your kids safe on TikTok is about reducing contact with strangers or harmful content. These features hold the key to how your child interacts with others on the platform.

  • Downloads: If the account is set to private, this is automatically turned off, and others cannot download your child’s videos. Users under 16 cannot have their videos downloaded. 16 to 17-year-olds will have the feature set to “off” by default, although they can change this at any time.
  • Comments: You can choose who can comment on videos, approve comments before they become visible, filter out offensive words. 13-15-year-olds can only choose from “Friends” or “No one” for the comment setting.
  • Following List, Duet, Stitch: You can choose who can see your following list, Duet videos (videos that show your content side-by-side with another user’s), Stitch videos (adding your video to someone else’s), and your liked videos. You can set your privacy settings to “Friends,” “Followers,” or “Only Me.” No one can Duet or Stitch with a video created by a user younger than 16. However, anyone can Duet or Stitch with users over 16. For 16 to 17 years old, the default option for who can Duet or Stitch with their video is set to “Friends.”
  • Direct Messages: You choose who can send your teen direct messages from either “Friends” or “No one.” Depending on your teen’s age, direct messages may not be available.

A spokesperson from VPNOverview.com commented on the study:

“Ensuring a child’s safety on the internet can be a tedious undertaking. After all, why would a ten-year-old care about data security? Chances are they won’t. They just want to watch funny videos on their phone.

We should all stay vigilant and critical about what kind of data these apps are collecting and where they may be using them. ‘Free’ apps and services still need to make money, so if users aren’t paying for services, it is likely that they’ll be making money elsewhere – by sharing your data with third parties.”

VPNOverview.com are a dedicated team of cybersecurity and privacy professionals offering guidance on these topics in the most accessible way possible. 

 

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