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Security & privacy

Teens in the family? Here’s the new app they’re using

As parents, you’re ever-vigilant about what your kids are doing online. It’s hard to keep up, isn’t it? Especially with the amount of time your teenagers spend online and the volume of apps that are available for their smartphones. Last year, we told you about secret apps that people use to hide photos, videos and messages.

This new app — actually, it’s not that new, but in 2018 it was one of the most downloaded, so it may be new to you — is a “viral video app” that lets users create short videos with music in the background. In 2018, it surpassed Facebook for the most downloads (probably because, I mean, who doesn’t have Facebook downloaded already?).

Many parents track their teens electronically – do you? Listen to Kim talk about why you need to watch your kids.

What was the No. 1 app in 2018?

The No. 1 downloaded iPhone app in 2018 is called TikTok, and it’s from a China-based developer. The app is directly aimed at teenagers. TikTok merged with and raised $3 billion from investors last year. It has added 30 million users in the United States since last summer.

TikTok is so popular with 500 million monthly users that Facebook recently launched a similar, short-video app called Lasso.

You may be wondering what TikTok is and why it’s so popular. It’s an app that lets you share 15-second videos with friends.

Here’s how to see what your kids are doing on their phones

Why is TikTok bad?

We’re not saying the app itself is bad — it’s what people do with it that can be bad. And, no, we’re not talking about bad lip-synching, stupid dances, and ridiculous parkour moves, although we could make an argument against those uses.

Here are four reasons we’re concerned about TikTok:

  1. It specifically targets young teens.
  2. It doesn’t offer parental controls (but please correct us if we’re wrong — we couldn’t find them).
  3. Porn. It’s there. You have to dig for it, but it’s there.
  4. We found it to be extremely easy to delete our activity from the app.

You know that teenagers are sneaky in the real world. But in the digital world, they’re hidden from your view and communicating in ways, and with people that could put them in serious danger.

You’ve heard about smartphone apps like Snapchat, where their conversations disappear shortly after they post them. A lot of teenagers use this anonymity to share nude photos of themselves and to receive the same kind of images from strangers. TikTok is another channel that enables teenagers — and anyone, really — to share explicit content.

You’ve heard about the truly terrifying outcomes of some of these online encounters when preteens and teenagers invite strangers to your home or run off with them. The consequences have in some cases have been deadly.

How to control TikTok

The app lets you set the account to “Private” or “Public.” The “Private” setting allows your children to share content with only their friends — people they’ve connected with through the app. However, there’s nothing that we could see that would allow you to be alerted if your child toggles the setting to “Public” while you’re not looking.

There are also safety settings that allow you to restrict who can send your child comments, who can “duet” with them (this is TikTok’s ability to allow you to share a split-screen), who can react to them and who can send them messages. You can block specific users through the app. Again, nothing is stopping your child from changing these settings while you’re away and changing them back when you’re within sight.

If your child uses TikTok, we recommend you do too, and immediately add them as your friend and vice versa. If you don’t want them to use TikTok, you can block this app at the device level. Access the parental controls of your child’s smartphone and add TikTok to the banned list.

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