TikTok Security Settings: How to Keep You and Your Data Safe

TikTok Security Settings: How to Keep You and Your Data Safe

If you find yourself increasingly addicted to TikTok, or are concerned about a TikTok-addicted tween in your household, how can you ensure your data (or theirs) is safe? Canstar looks at everything you need to know about TikTok’s data storage and security settings.

TikTok is an absolute phenomenon. Even in the face of a total ban in India, and previous calls to ban it in the US over privacy and security concerns, it racks up over a billion users each month. That makes it one of the largest social media platforms in the world.

In fact, despite being significantly younger than other major social media platforms, it’s already dethroned some pretty big names like LinkedIn, Reddit, Pinterest and Twitter when it comes to active monthly users. And it’s not far behind millennial favourite Instagram.

But with any new social media platform, security concerns arise. And with TikTok, more so than many others. Canstar looks at why users are concerned, and what security settings are available to best protect you.

In this article:

What is TikTok?
Why are people concerned?
Keeping your TikTok account secure from hackers
How to keep your data secure
How to keep the content you create safe
TikTok security settings for kids

What is TikTok?

TikTok is a video-sharing social media app.

TikTok allows users to create short-form videos (primarily under 15 seconds, though videos are limited to 10-minutes) that include comedy skits, news and commentary, dances, trends, lifestyle, travel and more. These videos are presented to users one after the other through a ‘for you page’ that is not too dissimilar to an Instagram feed, only for video content.

However, unlike other social media platforms, TikTok prioritises content based on an algorithm that suggests videos from random creators all across the globe, as opposed to content from friends you follow and interact with.

Notably, TikTok encourages user engagement through features such as ‘duet’ and ‘stitch’. Through these features, users can film themselves reacting and commenting on other videos, take audio from other videos and create their own video set to it, or even splice other users’ videos with their own recordings.

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Video content is one of the biggest data guzzlers out there. So an app like TikTok, which is nothing but video content, can quickly chew through your phone’s mobile data. If you’re consistently running short, or feel as if you might not be getting the best deal, then click the button below to start comparing phone plans right here on Canstar.

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→Related articles: How Much Mobile Data Do I Need?

Why are people concerned about TikTok’s privacy and security?

The main reason TikTok has come under so much scrutiny is that it was founded by a Chinese tech company. This means ByteDance, the Beijing-based company, is subject to the demands, laws, and regulations of the Chinese government. And, as a result, there’s been concern about what data is being stored and how it’s being used (or could be used).

These concerns haven’t been helped by an Australian report that concluded the app collects excessive amounts of data, both within the app and from your device as a whole, that isn’t necessary for the app to run effectively.

ByteDance has always claimed any concern is unfounded. It operates a different version of the app (called Douyin) within China to meet its local requirements without compromising the experience for international users. And it has said in the past that should it be asked to hand over user data to Chinese authorities, it would refuse to do so. Although what choice it would have in the matter is up for debate.

ByteDance also claims to store user data outside of China, in the US and Singapore, and has plans to establish data centres in Ireland. However, a recent report from Buzzfeed found evidence that Chinese TikTok employees had repeatedly accessed the data of US users in the past. But since then ByteDance has partnered with US-based Oracle to ensure all US data is stored locally, and securely, in the US.

Should I be concerned?

How our data and personal information is used online is a contentious topic, and one that has many concerned. Questioning what data TikTok is accessing is probably a good idea. But it’s also a good idea to consider the practices other apps and websites are engaging in as well. Security and privacy concerns aren’t unique to TikTok.

→Related articles: How to Keep Your Online Browsing Private and Avoid Trackers

How to keep your TikTok account secure

In order to keep your account safe from anyone trying to gain access, it’s important to follow all the usual tips and tricks:

  • Set a strong, and unique, password
  • Enable two-factor authentication – this can be set up in the app settings. If an unrecognised device attempts to log in, it will require confirmation through a second method (eg. email or SMS)
  • Don’t allow the app to remember or save your password
  • Keep the app up to date
  • Check the managed devices in the app settings. This will show you what devices are logged into your account

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How to keep your data secure when using TikTok

Firstly, no matter how secure you make your account, you are giving up your personal data. That’s just the way the internet works. And, as mentioned above, TikTok may be a bigger offender than others. Or at least it has the potential to be.

For example, the above Australian report found TikTok was capable of gaining access to hard drives, including external hard drives, your phone’s calendar, and can even see all the apps you have downloaded on your device. If it is actually accessing any of this information is unknown, but it certainly has the capability.

For the most part, this means if you want to use TikTok, you have to give up your data

But, as with any app you use, it’s a good idea to limit the data it has access to.

For example, you can deny TikTok from accessing and syncing your phone contacts and your Facebook friends, and you can turn off its use of location services. Both of these can be turned off when signing up, or by delving into your account settings on the TikTok app. It could also be a good idea to use a VPN while accessing TikTok as a means to hide your location, or even using an email address separate from your main one.

It’s also a good idea to create a TikTok account with a new login and password, and not by signing in through an existing social media platform (eg. Sign in using Facebook). This is because doing so may allow cross-platform sharing of data and personal information. Not to mention it can render any privacy settings useless. For example, if you deny TikTok access to your location, but you link it to your Facebook account which does access your location, then you have effectively given TikTok your location anyway.

Turning off targeted advertising (through the in-app settings) can also reduce the level of data gathering the app undertakes.

→Related article: Best VPN Providers in New Zealand

How to keep the content you create safe

As mentioned above, a lot of what makes TikTok unique is the way it encourages users to engage with content. While other apps simply encourage you to like, comment and share (which can all be done on TikTok too), TikTok encourages users to recreate, edit, splice and republish.

Depending on your profile settings, your content could end up being chopped up, edited and reshared millions of times. All without your consent or control. Some good ways to protect your content and account privacy are to:

  • Set your account to private – you have to accept any follow requests, and your content is only visible to followers
  • Allow friends only to comment on videos – to avoid spam comments
  • Allow messages from friends only – this limits interactions with strangers as well as spam content
  • Turn off ‘suggest your account to others’ – this avoids promoting your page, and subsequent information, to strangers
  • Don’t allow dueting, stitching or downloading of your videos – this prevents anyone from resharing/editing your content. It’s a good idea to prevent even friends from these permissions. As, depending on their permissions, your content could be shared on their page, and then shared again from there

The above steps won’t impact the content you view. But it will ensure any content you create is only for you and your friends, and that no one can take that content and reshare it as they wish. All of these controls can be found in the TikTok app by going to your profile and selecting ‘Settings and Privacy’ in the top corner.

→Related article: How Safe Is Public Wi-Fi?

TikTok security settings for kids

TikTok is incredibly popular amongst young people. And that has many parents concerned. However, there are a number of ways you can protect your children while on TikTok.

Family Pairing mode

Family pairing mode allows parents to link their own TikTok accounts to their child’s, and take control of their settings. This ensures your child is making the most of the settings that are available, instead of relying on them to self-monitor.

Through family pairing, you can take advantage of settings like:

  • Screen Time Management – control how long they can use the app per day
  • Direct Messages – restrict who can send messages to your child’s account, or turn off direct messaging completely
  • Restricted Mode – this setting filters out content that may not be appropriate for young audiences
  • Control profile viewability – make their account private so it’s viewable to friends only
  • Restrict video sharing – prevent others from downloading, stitching and dueting your child’s videos
  • Liked Videos – adjust who can view the videos your child has liked
  • Comments: control who can comment on your child’s videos
  • Suggest Account to Others: whether your child’s account can be recommended to others or not

Of course, the catch is that to use Family Pairing mode you must have a TikTok account. Which, depending on your age, you may not be so keen on. If that’s the case, then the above settings can be implemented on your child’s device, but you’ll have to do it directly through their device.

While some settings can be password protected on your child’s device (such as turning on Restricted Mode), your child will still have control over some other settings. So you’ll have to trust that they keep them implemented. Otherwise, Family Pairing mode may be your best bet.

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author andrew broadley

About the author of this page

This report was written by Canstar Content Producer, Andrew Broadley. Andrew is an experienced writer with a wide range of industry experience. Starting out, he cut his teeth working as a writer for print and online magazines, and he has worked in both journalism and editorial roles. His content has covered lifestyle and culture, marketing and, more recently, finance for Canstar.

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