A new app (at least new in the US) may be something most parents have never heard of, but for kids as young as third grade, TikTok is quickly becoming a favorite. And internet security experts warn the app is not appropriate for anyone under 16.
Currently, TikTok is the world’s most downloaded app. And while it launched only a month ago in the US, the company has been around abroad for long enough to gain immense popularity. And the China based company bought the popular video sharing app Musical.ly, so it has access to all those users information.
The app features short videos generated by its 500 millions users with special effect filters and stickers.
Rick Floyd, an Information Security specialist with the Greenville County School District talks to kids and parents about online dangers, and while he never informs students of new apps, he grew concerned this past month when young kids told him they had Tik Tok on their phones.
“Every class for the last couple of weeks that I spoke to, 3rd, 4th and 5th grade, they’re bringing it up, they’re aware of TikTok, Parents on the other hand when I’ve spoken to them, they have no idea what it is,” said Floyd.
What concerns Floyd is not just the potential exposure to inappropriate videos and language, but the way TikTok connects young users with the world’s largest public communications platform, since Tik Tok is such a popular global app.
“When you’re posting your videos to tik tok, you’re posting it to the world,” said Floyd.
“They try to convince me to do it with them and I say no,” said Regan Bishop, a 4th grader at Plain Elementary in Simpsonville.
Many of the Plain Elementary nine year olds Floyd was talking to this week already have stories of being targeted by strangers online through various apps they use.
“One person sent me a friend request one time, and I joined them and it ended up being a complete stranger who just tried to get me to tell them my information but I just left the game,” said Sami Garhat.
Floyd learning then how much his talks to students make difference, since Garhat went on to say “when I was in 3rd grade at Plain Elementary, Mr. Floyd he came and talked to us about it so I’m really thankful that he did that cause if not I probably wouldn’t be here right now.”
The danger is very real. Floyd says last year, eight 3rd grade girls in the district thought they were talking to a 12-year-old boy with cancer no Musical.ly. An investigation revealed that it was actually a 28-year-old man from Kentucky.”
Another concern with Tik Tok is the amount of personal data the app acquires from your location to your contacts to your messages.
“I’ve learned that if you just put it on there, it will never be gone, it will never just go away,” said 4th grader Caleb Noland.
One more thing that parents may find disturbing about tik tok is the app only has two privacy settings, either private or completely public. There is no middle ground like other social media platforms that allow you to share only with your friends.