TikTok is changing its privacy settings for teens. What are the changes?

Story by CBC Kids News • 2021-01-19 06:58

Changes affect teens differently depending on age

In an effort to help kids take control of their online privacy, TikTok is making changes to how content created by young users is seen and shared.

On Jan. 13., the social media platform announced that users between the ages of 13 and 17 will see changes to the default privacy settings of their content, as well as some extra protections for the app’s youngest users.

But why is TikTok making these changes, and what are they?

Features made more private

TikTok announced it is making some parts of the app more private by default for younger users to help teens make “more deliberate decisions about their online privacy.”

As part of TikTok’s new privacy changes, the feature that allows a user’s account to be recommended to others is now turned off by default for all users 17 and under. (Image credit: Cindy Ord/Getty Images)

This means that their account starts off with more private settings, and from there it’s up to them to choose how much or how little they show to the world as they grow older. 

Different rules for different ages

Only users age 13-15 will actually lose some features, specifically for how others interact with and share their content. 

The idea is that this younger group can age into these features after some time developing some foundational skills around online privacy.

For users age 13-15:

For users 16-17:

Wearing a phone attached to her body, Morgann Book films herself making custom ice cream cakes and other treats on TikTok.. She said she's seen younger teens get a lot of hate on TikTok and thinks the new privacy measures are for the best. (Image submitted by Morgann Book)

Experts say changes are good, could go further

Matthew Johnson, director of education at MediaSmarts, said TikTok’s privacy changes are a “really positive first step” because they signal to teens that privacy is important.

“Our research has really shown that the default settings of any platform, particularly a social network, have a big influence on how people use them, young people in particular.”

He also said the fact that there are different privacy settings for teens of different age groups is good, as some MediaSmarts research shows that’s exactly what teens want.

Still, he said, the app can still go further to educate its young users.

“I would like to see more education done about some of the implications and consequences of sharing content on TikTok.”

What do teen TikTokers think?

Morgann Book, a 17-year-old from Ancaster, Ontario, who recently went viral on TikTok showing her life working at Dairy Queen, said she thinks the changes are important. 

On her TikTok, Morgann Book shows how she turns ice cream cakes into art. So far, her videos have gained her 1.3 million followers. (Image credit: AncasterDQ/TikTok)

“I think setting it right to a private account first is great,” she said. “I don’t think younger teens new to the app would even realize it.”

Morgann said she’d be upset if she was under 16 and was affected by the changes, but for the mental health of that age group, it’s for the best.

“There are a lot of people that go on the app just to bring others down.” she said. “No one’s going to like the changes, but it’s protecting you and it’s protecting others.”

Won’t kids just lie about their age?

Johnson said that it's possible that kids will lie about their age to get around the new settings.

He said that there isn't an obvious way for social networks to prevent this.

According to Johnson, this is why MediaSmarts recommends that parents create joint accounts with their kids if they want to access features before they're old enough — like in Khiyla’s case — so that they can still help keep their kids safe.


In the original version of this story, we reported that teens aged 13-15 could no longer use TikTok's duet and stitch features with other users. This was incorrect. Other TikTok users cannot stitch or duet videos made by users under 16. Teens 13-15 can still duet and stitch videos, but they must be made by users who are over 16. This correction was issued on Jan. 19.

With files from Laura Howells/CBC News

TOP IMAGE CREDIT: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

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