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Is TikTok App a Privacy Threat

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There are a lot of teens who put up creative content on TikTok app. But, is any of them aware of the privacy implications of these apps?

TikTok which includes Musical.ly, Kwai and Helo are the latest video-sharing apps that also double as social media platforms. And these are unmitigatedly the ideal place for one to feel old since a majority of the incessantly streaming videos are by teens.

TikTok, launched in September 2016, has emerged as the most popular video-creating app across the globe by far, becoming the most downloaded iPhone app in the first quarter of this year according to mobile research firm Sensor Tower. There were 45.8 million downloads of TikTok and from August, TikTok, which is known as Douyin in its home country of China, officially took over Musical.ly’s operations.

If you log in from India, you will see Indian teens in the TikTok app. You see them playing pranks and goofing around with ‘duet’ videos as they share a split screen with strangers, you see them lip-syncing pre-set movie dialogues. And of-course there is a lot of dancing. On a positive aspect, there are a lot of people who put up really creative content on these platforms. For teens, it’s fun to watch people play out different characters. Besides, it doesn’t hurt that these videos only last a few seconds and ask for no time commitments.

Privacy Concern
What makes security experts alarming is that some of 12 to 13 years old are posting contents what could be considered inappropriate. And most of times the parents of these kids are not aware of the contents that are being putting up in the TikTok. Much like other social media platforms, TikTok is deemed suitable for users who are 12 and above on iTunes as well as Google Play. This is where the problem lies.

When it comes to mastering gadgets, or mobile apps, the youngsters are usually much faster than adults. It’s this quick rate of adoption that also makes them susceptible to danger. The one thing that worries security experts is that TikTok users, most of whom are teenagers, seem less than concerned about privacy settings.

Apps like TikTok are actually a double-edged sword — in other words, the quick rate of adoption by the teenagers makes them susceptible to danger as they tend to overlook technology’s negative aspects. The use of Bollywood music and dialogues, besides local content from regional cinema, make such platforms appealing to teenagers.

What’s scary is the fact that a majority of TikTok profiles are public, meaning anyone can access their content. And even if download restrictions are in place (these too came after a lot of bad press), there’s no guarantee that the videos will always remain safe. Besides, there’s always the danger of private content being passed on if someone has the direct Web address of the video.

According to an investigation by the South China Morning Post in May at least 100 primary school pupils were active on the app, having posted anything between 10 to 500 clips each. Identified via their school uniforms, real names or phone numbers (all of which the students had put out), more than 40 users were between the ages of 10 and 12.

In March this year, the Arkansas attorney general, Leslie Rutledge, in the U.S, officially announced that default settings were allowing predators to create secret video groupings of Musical.ly’s users. Musical.ly has since become TikTok, but the app’s format remains the same.

Legal Protection
In India, security experts say that a majority of parents remain unaware of the apps their children use. And owing to absence of machine learning tools and alternative verification processes, it’s easy for children to bypass age restrictions on such platforms like TikTok.

In a scenario where it’s hard to crack down on obnoxious contents in TikTok, one hope is the Indian Personal Data Protection Act. If you go by the Indian draft bill of data protection, apps like TikTok should need prior registration with authorities and the app’s developers will have to double as guardians of privacy rights to protect children. But again, the Indian draft bill on data protection is yet to be tabled and it could take anything from a few months to over a year and more for it to become enforceable.

It’s high time that Internet safety finds its rightful priority.

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