TIKTOK is a new social network app that is most popular among children under 16 – but what is it?
Many have branded the app a “magnet for paedophiles”, prompting a new investigation. Here’s what we know.
What is TikTok?
It is a Chinese video app that allows users to create and share short videos with special effects.
It was the world’s most downloaded app in the first quarter of 2018, with an estimated 45.8 million downloads.
Jokes, clips and footage dominate the platform, along with memes and videos in which youngsters, some scantily clad, lip-sync and dance to popular music.
It is a video-only interface makes it less elaborate and easier to use than platforms such as Facebook or Twitter.
The popular social network app is most popular among children under 16.
Is the app dangerous for children?
A BBC Trending investigation found video-sharing app TikTok failed to remove online predators who were sending sexual messages to teenagers and children.
Over three months, the investigation collected hundreds of sexual comments posted on videos uploaded by teenagers and children.
While the company deleted the majority of these comments, the users who posted them were able to remain on the platform, despite TikTok’s own rules against sexual content directed at children.
The BBC was also able to identity a number of users who, again and again, approached teenage girls online to post sexually explicit messages on their videos.
In the course of this investigation, the BBC came across several accounts run by children under 13.
Some are as young as nine years old.
But, despite these findings, TikTok has no plans to start verifying user’s age in the UK, or anywhere outside of the United States.
All comments found by the BBC were reported to TikTok using the same tools available to any user of the app.
What is the new investigation?
Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham has launched a probe over concerns predatory adults can freely message children on it.
She said that while one in five Brits online are kids, tech giants and online gaming companies have failed to do enough to protect them.
The data tsar said: “We know that the internet, games, websites and social media companies were not designed with kids in mind, and yet 20 per cent of the users of the users of the internet in the UK are children.
“And the kids are not alright. We need to focus on the kids.”
She was quizzed by the culture committee as part of their inquiry into kids getting hooked on gaming.
Her stark warning to MPs came after campaigners raised the alarm over the app, which lets users post clips of people dancing to music.
The Sun Online recently revealed kids as young as eight have been targeted by predators on the app, which has a staggering 500million users worldwide.
Videos of young schoolchildren innocently singing or dancing attract swarms of sexually suggestive comments.
And parents have been horrified to see their children receive aggressive direct messages from older men.
Grilled by MPs on the culture committee, Ms Denham said: “We are investigating a company named TikTok.
“We are looking at the transparency tools for children, the messaging system, the kind of videos collected and shared by children online.”
What do the experts say?
John Carr, one of the UK’s leading experts on child online safety, warned of the controversial app: “There’s no question an app like this is a magnet for paedophiles.”
TikTok bosses have already been fined £4.3million for collecting data on US kids including their names, locations and email addresses.
Andy Burrows of the NSPCC said: “The Information Commissioner’s investigation into TikTok, and whether its site design puts children at risk of grooming and abuse, is significant.
“Social networks have made little progress in protecting children on their platforms so it is imperative that the new Prime Minister makes this a priority and the Government now works swiftly to build on its bold and ambitious proposals and brings in legislation that will make the UK the safest place for children to be online.
“Recent research also showed us that nine out of ten children and parents also agree tech firms should have legal responsibility to keep young users safe.”
A TikTok spokesman said: “We cooperate with organisations such as the ICO to provide relevant information about our product to support their work.
“Ensuring data protection principles are upheld is a top priority for TikTok.”
The ICO has the power to fine companies four per cent of the company’s global turnover if they are found guilty of the worst breaches.
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What should parents know?
When signing up on TikTok, user profiles are made “public” by default.
This means anyone can view videos that your children upload.
They can send direct messages to them and access where they live.
WHAT IS TIKTOK?
TikTok lets users create and share short videos with music and camera effects.
It is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, founded by the entrepreneur Zhang Yiming.
The $75 billion conglomerate acquired the Musical.ly app in 2017 and merged it with TikTok, bringing millions of new users.
It is the world’s most downloaded iPhone app – with nearly 800 million downloads across the globe, according to data from mobile research firm Sensor Tower.
Facebook has taken notice of TikTok’s rising popularity, and launched a competitor app called Lasso in November last year.