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TikTok tightens privacy rules for under-16s

Peter Byrne

By Martyn Landi, PA Technology Correspondent

The accounts of TikTok users under the age of 16 will now be private by default, the company has announced, meaning only people approved by the user can view their videos.

The video sharing app said the change was part of efforts to make the platform safer for its younger users.

The platform is also tightening controls on who can comment on videos posted by users aged between 13 and 15 and will now only offer two options – either friends or no – for comments.

In further updates, TikTok said it was changing collaborative creative tools such as Duet and Stitch so that the wider TikTok community will no longer be able to see those features used by people under 16, while the ability to download videos created by users under 16 is also being removed.

The video app has become increasingly popular in recent years, particularly among younger mobile users, but TikTok has come under pressure to improve its security settings and processes around young people.

TikTok’s updates also come ahead of the anticipated introduction of Online Harms legislation, which is expected to be brought before Parliament this year, and will place greater emphasis on social media firms to comply with a duty of care to their users.

Elaine Fox, head of privacy in Europe for TikTok, said: “The privacy rights and online safety of our community is a top priority for TikTok, and we place a particular emphasis on the privacy and safety of our younger users, which is why we’re making these significant changes.

“We want to encourage our younger users to actively engage in their online privacy journey, and by doing so early we hope to inspire them to take an active role and make informed decisions about their online privacy.”

Alexandra Evans, TikTok’s head of child safety in Europe, said the changes were “groundbreaking”.

“They build on previous changes we’ve made to promote minor safety, including restricting direct messaging and hosting live streams to accounts 16 and over and enabling parents and caregivers to set guardrails for their teen’s TikTok account through our Family Pairing feature,” she said.

“We know there is no finish line when it comes to minor safety, and that is why we are continuously evolving our policies and investing in our technology and human moderation teams so that TikTok remains a safe place for all our users to express their creativity.”

Online safety groups have praised the social media site for its actions.

Andy Burrows, head of child safety online policy at the NSPCC, said: “This is a bold package of measures by TikTok and a hugely welcome step that will reduce opportunities for groomers to contact children.

“It comes as abusers are taking advantage of the pandemic to target children spending more time online and we urge other platforms to be similarly proactive rather than wait for regulation to come into effect.

“The full benefits of these changes will be felt when age assurance measures are put in place in September when the Age Appropriate Design Code comes into force.”

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