TikTok tightens privacy settings for millions of teens to protect them from groomers

TikTok has changed privacy rules for users who are under 16 Credit: PA

Video sharing app TikTok has made "groundbreaking" changes to privacy settings for millions of teenagers.

It is hoped the changes will protect children on the social media platform from grooming, sexual exploitation and abuse.

The update means accounts of all users under the age of 16 will be private by default, removing the ability for strangers for comment and view their videos.

At the same time, the social media platform is only offering two options for who can comment on videos by users aged 13 to 15 - friends or no one.

And videos created by under-16s will not be able to be downloaded by anyone.

TikTok announced it would also change privacy settings on collaborative creative tools, such as Duet and Stitch, so the wider TikTok community will not be able to see videos by under 16s.

TikTok saw huge growth in 2021 Credit: Peter Byrne/PA

The video sharing site - which is popular among teenagers - has been under pressure to improve its security settings for young people.

Elaine Fox, head of privacy in Europe for TikTok, said: “The privacy rights and online safety of our community is a top priority for TikTok, and we place a particular emphasis on the privacy and safety of our younger users, which is why we’re making these significant changes.

“We want to encourage our younger users to actively engage in their online privacy journey, and by doing so early we hope to inspire them to take an active role and make informed decisions about their online privacy.”

Alexandra Evans, TikTok’s head of child safety in Europe, said the changes were “groundbreaking”.

She said: “They build on previous changes we’ve made to promote minor safety, including restricting direct messaging and hosting live streams to accounts 16 and over and enabling parents and caregivers to set guardrails for their teen’s TikTok account through our Family Pairing feature.

“We know there is no finish line when it comes to minor safety, and that is why we are continuously evolving our policies and investing in our technology and human moderation teams so that TikTok remains a safe place for all our users to express their creativity.”

The updates also come ahead of the introduction of Online Harms legislation, which will put more pressure on social media sites to have a duty of care to users and which is expected to be brought before Parliament this year.

Andy Burrows, head of child safety online policy at the NSPCC, praised the social media site for its actions: “This is a bold package of measures by TikTok and a hugely welcome step that will reduce opportunities for groomers to contact children.

“It comes as abusers are taking advantage of the pandemic to target children spending more time online and we urge other platforms to be similarly proactive rather than wait for regulation to come into effect.

“The full benefits of these changes will be felt when age assurance measures are put in place in September when the Age Appropriate Design Code comes into force.”