Is TikTok Safe? Plus, New Privacy Settings for Teens

Jalesa Campbell
Updated Feb 24, 2021
2 min read

With over 1 billion users worldwide, ByteDance’s TikTok is no stranger to the spotlight, as are other social media platforms, when it comes to privacy and safety concerns. The app was on the verge of being banned in the U.S. in 2020 over concerns for national security, however, the ban was blocked in December.

Although the parent company is based in China, TikTok has said that it stores its data in the U.S. and maintains backups in Singapore, according to Bustle. TikTok is managing to make safety and privacy a priority, especially for younger users, through recent changes. Here’s a breakdown of some of the new TikTok privacy settings for teens and how parents can also lend a hand in helping their children stay safe while using the app.

For TikTok Users Ages 13-15, Here’s What to Expect

For younger users between the ages of 13 and 15, their profiles have automatically defaulted to “Private.”Only users who are approved as followers can see their videos.

Additionally, commenting permissions have changed. Children age 13-15 can only receive comments from friends (or no one at all) to protect their safety. Account suggestions have also been switched off and the ability to use Duet and Stitch for creating content. And for better protection, 13-15-year-olds are no longer able to send direct messages, host a live stream, or participate in virtual gifting.

Additional parental control:

For parents wondering if TikTok can be customized for kids, yes, it can. There are additional parental control features available so that the app can be customized as to the content they’re able to see, who they can connect with, and even how long they can use the app. The Family Pairing feature makes this possible to help create a safer and potentially healthier experience for children. There’s also an in-app experience called “TikTok for Younger Users” that can be switched on for kids under 13 years old.

For TikTok Users Ages 16-17, Here’s What to Expect

Tik Tokkers between the ages of 16 and 17 have several privacy guardrails now in place, including the default setting for Duet and Stitch being set to “Friends.” Duet is a feature that allows users to build off of someone else’s video by adding their recording to the original, while Stitch allows users to take a clip of someone’s video and add it to their own recording.

Video downloads are now no longer automatically enabled for teens ages 16 and 17 unless they manually change the setting. And as with younger teens, virtual gift buying, sending, and receiving has also been restricted. However, live streaming and direct messaging will be available to 16 and 17-year-olds.

Safety Concerns to Check When Teens Use the App

Although TikTok has put into place more barriers for younger users, that doesn’t mean certain safety concerns are nonexistent. Here are some things parents need to keep in mind if they’re going to allow their children to use the app:

  • Teens can still encounter inappropriate content: TikTok’s “Restricted Mode” is designed to block inappropriate content, but they warn that the app may not always catch certain content. As the app’s algorithm is designed to provide content that users like, in some cases, depending on who your teen follows, that sets up a Catch-22. One takeaway here is to consider using the “Restricted Mode” but understand that there’s always a risk while using the app.
  • Users could encounter cyberbullying: Additionally, younger users could still run into cyberbullying while using TikTok as with other platforms. The company does have some measures in place to help protect users. For instance, teens can unfollow and block anyone they no longer want to associate with. They can also delete any comments on their videos that are inappropriate. Additionally, TikTok encourages users to report anyone they feel is harassing or bullying them.

Should Parents Be Concerned About TikTok's Security?

TikTok believes it’s important to set boundaries and limitations to help protect younger users: “As young people start their digital journey, we believe it’s important to provide them with age-appropriate privacy settings and controls,” says Eric Han, TikTok’s Head of U.S. Safety.  The brand also creates and shares Transparency Reports in an effort to keep the TikTok community informed.

While TikTok may pose some risks to user privacy and safety, it’s important to consider how there’s an inherent risk with any online platform when personal data is required for use. We encourage parents to take steps at home to educate their children about online and digital safety as kids start using technology earlier in life.

Photo by XanderSt / Shutterstock


Safety and Security Reporter

Jalesa Campbell

Jalesa is one of Safety.com's staff experts on home security, natural disasters, public safety, and family safety. She's been featured on Today.com and elsewhere.

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