Is TikTok Safe? An Overview of the App’s Risks and Benefits

It’s an app that has been downloaded more than one billion times* – more than Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube – and it is under investigation by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). We’re talking about TikTok, the social media app that lets users create, share, and watch short-form, karaoke-style music and entertainment videos. 

If you are one of the millions of Americans who use TikTok, or you’re considering downloading it for yourself or your kids, here are a few things you need to know about the risks, benefits and, of course, the investigation:

  • The app used to be called Musical.ly, and it has a history of privacy issues. Specifically, the Chinese company that merged TikTok and Musical.ly, called Bytedance, paid the largest civil penalty the Federal Trade Commission has ever collected ($5.7 million) as part of a children’s data-privacy case. The issue was the company did not seek parental consent before collecting use information, and reports began to come in of adults trying to contact children. Currently, the minimum user age of TikTok is 13.
  • It is projected to be the next Snapchat. Why? Because like today’s major social media giants, it allows users to express themselves, gain a following, and create a community. You can also customize videos with special effects and share on other social platforms to further expand your reach.
  • It has some safety and privacy features to consider. To filter out inappropriate content, you can turn on ‘restricted mode.’ You can also set your account to private, but need to do so manually as all accounts are automatically set up as public upon creation. A private account means videos are only seen by you, and you can approve or deny followers, limit messaging and more. If your child is setting up the account, know that their photo, username and bio are still visible even with a private account. In privacy settings, you can also block people and limit who can find you, see your comments, and duet with you.
  • Yes, the app is under investigation again. With the growing popularity and influence of TikTok in the U.S., the CFIUS has launched a national security review of Bytedance’s acquisition of Musical.ly (now TikTok) for potentially censoring content and sending data to China. Learn more here.

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*According to research firm Sensor Tower