TikTok vulnerability: This global platform buckles up with more safety features as criticism mounts [Exclusive]

Since TikTok's parent company is Beijing-based ByteDance, the app has been targeted by lawmakers and regulators who are suspicious of Chinese technology

Recently security researchers from Checkpoint, a cybersecurity company, revealed that TikTok, one of the most popular apps used by hundreds of millions of teenagers around the world, had serious vulnerabilities that would allow the cybercriminals to manipulate the user data and reveal their information.

The newly detected flaw would have allowed the hackers to send the users malicious links in a message. If a user clicks the link, the cybercriminal would then take control of the TikTok account, including uploading videos or gaining access to private videos. The app has also faced criticism over allowing underage users on one side and the pedophiles on the other as is the case with many social media apps.

The new vulnerability

It should be mentioned that TikTok allows users to post short, creative videos, which can easily be shared on various apps. Since its parent company ByteDance is based in Beijing, lawmakers and regulators in other countries are suspicious of its Chinese connection and its vulnerable technology. In the past two years, though the app became extremely popular worldwide, experts believe that it also provides an easy opportunity to hackers.


TikTok security issues

Most of the TikTok users are youngsters, who are exposed to the big cosmos of the internet. But earlier researchers said that to protect underaged users from pedophiles, TikTok doesn't have major privacy controls, which make the teens vulnerable to cyberbullying and explicit content.

When IBTimes Singapore reached out, the company's spokesperson, Doreen Tan, User and Content Operations Manager at TikTok mentioned that the platform is following some important measures to ensure the safety and security of the young customers.

Security enhancement

Doreen Tan, User & Content Operations Manager, TikTok.
Doreen Tan, User & Content Operations Manager, TikTok.

Doreen Tan told IBTimes SG that the app has safety features and continues to update and enhance them. TikTok's comprehensive safety features are easily accessible to users, she pointed out. "We're extremely proactive about our commitment to online safety and have in place very robust measures to equip users with the right information, resources and to help educate them about how to stay safe online," she said.

She has reiterated that safety is a shared responsibility and the onus of maintaining a safe online environment falls equally on the users as well as the app makers. "For our part, TikTok is actively working towards ensuring that users have the right tools to flag any issues and content they think is a violation of the community guidelines."

The company has released a comprehensive, expanded publication of the Community Guidelines that help maintain a supportive and welcoming environment on TikTok. As per Doreen Tan, these guidelines "reflect our driving philosophy – providing a platform for creative self-expression while remaining safe, diverse, and authentic – and define a common code of conduct on our platform."

New safety measures in TikTok

It has implemented a moderation technology powered by machine learning algorithms and a robust human team. They have also included product features like notification banners added to videos that may be inappropriate for younger audiences.

Doreen Tan explained further stating, "With cyber wellness increasingly thrust into the limelight globally, TikTok users now have more options to select from, in terms of the time and content they consume online, through updated Screen Time Management and Restricted Mode features on the app."

Here's a look at the TikTok safety features:

  • Age gate - It allows users who are 13-year-old or above to login and create an account on TikTok, to ensure that underage users do not use the platform.
  • Screen time management – Through this feature users will be able to select if they want to spend 40, 60, 90, 120 minutes per day on the app. It is password-protected, if users reach their screen time limit they will need to enter a password to continue to use TikTok.
  • Restricted mode - This is an optional account setting that will limit the appearance of content that may not be appropriate for minors. This feature is password-protected (valid for 30 days) and powered by machine learning algorithms, designed empowers users to take control of the content they watch. If users want to watch unfiltered content, they need to enter a password.
  • In-app suicide prevention – Through this feature users will be redirected to an in-app suicide resource page which offers tips and key contacts to help address any user issues.
  • Risk warning tag – This tag is added to videos that contain risks or may not be appropriate for all users.
  • Comment filter feature – It allows users to self-define up to 30 keywords from the comments section in English and local language. They can alter this list at any given point of time.
  • Parental control - The feature is the combination of Screen Time Management and Restricted Mode. In the app, this feature is called Digital Wellbeing. This feature allows parents to set up a password when they turn on the screen time management and restricted mode on their kid's phones. Without knowing what the password is, a kid can only watch videos for a limited time length per day or watch filtered content.
  • In-app reporting - It allows users to report any objectionable content or behavior for TikTok to action upon in real-time.

Privacy setting options in TikTok

This article was first published on January 21, 2020
Related topics : Cybersecurity
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