Is TikTok Safe? Here’s what you need to know

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More than 150 million Americans use TikTok, but is TikTok safe? It’s as safe as just about any other social media platform. It doesn’t infect your phone with malware, but it comes with some safety risks like scams and saved user data. Here’s what you need to know to stay safe on TikTok.


TikTok safety tips


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There are scams aplenty

Why is TikTok dangerous? Well, one reason is because of the abundance of scams. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) considers TikTok a goldmine for scammers.¹ To be fair, any social media app that can direct message (DM) other users has the potential for scams. Here are a few to watch out for in your DMs:

  • Follower or like scams: This is where the messenger promises that, for a low fee, they’ll boost your followers or video likes to make you look like a TikTok star. Just block them and report them for spam.
  • Romance scams: These smooth-talkers will tell you you’re the most beautiful thing they’ve ever seen... then hit you up for money as the conversations progress. Or they will try to get as much information out of you as possible to steal your identity. Don’t engage with these catfish.
  • Investment scams: Looking to make a quick buck? Who isn’t? That’s how these scamsters attack. They draw you in with promises about making fast money through crypto or other investments and then take you for as much as possible. Block and report.
  • Phishing scams: Don’t click links. Just don’t do it. Scammers can use the links to download malware to your phone that can steal private information.
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Your information isn’t private

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Image: SafeWise

Like many other social media sites (looking at you, Facebook), TikTok collects information about you when you use it. You can read its privacy policy yourself, but if that’s “TL;DR”, this is a summary of the information it collects:

  • Any information you add to your profile, such as your age, language, phone number, photo, and email address
  • Any information it can gain from third-party accounts (such as Facebook or Google) when you link them to your TikTok account
  • Any content you upload, including photos and videos
  • The information it can find about you from other “publicly available sources”
  • Any information about what you searched for on TikTok
  • Any information about your phone, including your IP address, your mobile carrier, time zone, apps, and file names found on your phone
  • Keystroke patterns or rhythms
  • Location data
  • Messages you send and receive from other users

Once TikTok has your information, the company uses it in a variety of ways. Some of the uses include tailoring what type of TikTok videos show up in your For You Page (FYP) and learning how to target you with ads. TikTok also shares your information with third parties.

In late March 2023, TikTok announced that it has plans to store American data in America with American companies overseen by American personnel. It also said it will continue to ensure there is no manipulation of the app by any government entity. This change is in response to concerns raised during a United States congressional hearing.

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TikTok could be using your image against you

Why is TikTok bad for privacy and self-image? There’s an easy answer: your videos. TikTok will analyze your photos and videos, according to its privacy policy, to identify “the objects and scenery that appear, the existence and location within an image of face and body features and attributes, the nature of the audio, and the text of the words spoken in your User Content.”

There have been reports that TikTok analyzes faces and bodies and lowers the views of users seen as overweight, disabled, or unattractive.¹

Younger TikTok users are vulnerable

TikTok has a Family Pairing option that can limit what kids see.

Image: SafeWise

Is TikTok bad for kids? Is it safe?

According to new data findings, TikTok is the most worrying social media app," says a spokesperson from Canopy.us, a digital family safety app. "While there are many risks posed to young users of the platform, parents can do several things to protect their kids from dangerous content."

TikTok has special protections for kids who are 13 and younger. In restricted mode, children can watch videos on TikTok and even make their own, but they can’t save their videos to the popular social media app. The videos are saved to their phones instead. Younger users also can’t send or receive messages, and others can’t see their profiles.

On March 1, 2023, TikTok announced that it would be limiting screen time for teens under 18 to 60 minutes a day. They came to this time limit after consulting with the Digital Wellness Lab at Boston Children's Hospital. Kids over 13 will need to enter a passcode to keep using the app, while younger kids will need their grownups to enter a code to allow them 30 more minutes of watch time.

While this sounds good, we’d still worry about kids seeing videos with mature or inappropriate content and spending too much time on the app. 

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Keep TikTok kid-friendly

In the settings, you can go to the Family Pairing option to limit what the young person in your life sees on their TikTok feed, set up watch time limits, and more.

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For tips on keeping your children safe online, look at our guide Online Safety for Kids in 2022: Parenting Tips for Tech.

TikTok can be poor for mental health

The TikTok algorithm gathers information about the videos you watch and feeds you more of the same. The more you watch, the more videos with that same content you’ll get on your FYP. Sometimes, these videos can be bad for your health.

In the documentary TikTok by Journeyman Pictures, one user describes how she happened to watch a video that included weight loss techniques. Soon, her feed was filled with extreme weight loss videos. This constant stream helped to fuel an eating disorder.²

In addition to potentially harming those with eating disorders, it’s easy to see how this type of algorithm can also be detrimental to those with depression or other mental health issues. One study found watchers may even develop illnesses (such as Tourette-like tics) by watching other’s TikTok videos in a strange phenomenon called “mass sociogenic illness.”³

Finally, unless you never post a video on TikTok, other people will be able to see you. Not to scare you, but posting images of yourself can lead to bullying and other forms of harassment. Cyberbullying can be detrimental to your mental health as well.

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Beware of TikTok trends

TikTok is a breeding ground for dangerous trends such as the BORG drinking trend. If you have a kiddo or teen on the app, be sure to stay on top of the latest trends and talk to your child about them.

How to combat TikTok pitfalls

TikTok has privacy settings that can customize how others interact with you.

Image: SafeWise

How do you use TikTok safely? If you don’t want to give up TikTok, you can do a few things to protect your mental, data, and physical health:

  • Watch positive, happy videos. The more happy, funny, cute videos you watch, the more they will end up in your FYP. Also, stay clear of triggers. For example, if you struggle with disordered eating, skip posts that talk about weight loss.
  • Don’t engage with trolls. Stay out of fights in the comments and ignore people with hateful comments. They’re just doing it for attention. Don’t give it to them. Save your energy.
  • Ignore the haters. This one’s hard, but try your best to ignore those with mean things people say about your videos or physical appearance. Remember, the blocking option is your friend.
  • Be private. Before posting, check your videos for things that can identify you or your location to other users. For example, blur out your car’s license plate or your house number. Doing this will help to deter potential stalkers.
  • Use a VPN. If you’re concerned about all the user data the TikTok app collects, set up a VPN. Our VPN guide will get you started.
  • Use the privacy settings. On your profile page, tap on the menu, select Settings and Privacy, and then click Privacy. From there, you can choose who can follow you, comment on your videos, Duet and Stitch your videos, and more. You can also make your profile completely private if you just use TikTok to browse, not post.
  • Use the Digital Wellbeing features. In the settings, tap on Digital Wellbeing. Then, decide how much screen time you want to limit yourself to when you’re on the app and set up the timer or screen-time breaks.
  • Use a parental control app to control how much your child uses the app. Our top pick for a TikTok parental control app is Bark.
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FAQ

Scams through DMs are common, and the app tracks, records, and shares your information. You should also know that the app can be detrimental to your mental health.

TikTok can’t steal something that’s given to it. When you sign up, TikTok’s privacy policy clarifies that it's taking whatever personal information it can. If you have privacy concerns, it’s probably best not to use the social network app.

It will disappear from your phone, but TikTok will still have all of the personal data about you that it has already collected. You’ll need to fill out a request form to remove your information.

Yep, you sure can. Tracking who looks at your profile can help you detect potential stalkers.

All you need to do is turn on the profile view option on the TikTok app. Tap on the person icon at the bottom of the screen, and then tap the eye icon in the upper right corner. Tap turn on to turn on the profile view history.

Now, whenever you tap the eye icon, you can see who looked at your profile. Just be warned that other people can see if you look at their profiles as well once this is turned on.

Have you decided that TikTok isn't for you? Here's how to get rid of it:

1. Tap on the Profile icon on the bottom right of the app.
2. Tap the 3-line menu icon in the top right.
3. Tap Settings and Privacy.
4. Tap Account and then Deactivate or Delete Account.
5. Follow the on-screen instructions to finish.


Sources

  1. FTC, Emma Fletcher, “Social Media a Gold Mine for Scammers in 2021,” January 25, 2022. Accessed August 22, 2022.
  2. Journeyman Pictures, “TikTok,” 2022. Accessed August 6, 2022.
  3. Movement Disorders, Caroline Olvera, MD, “TikTok Tics: A Pandemic Within a Pandemic,” July 28, 2021. Accessed August 22, 2022.
Alina Bradford
Written by
Alina Bradford
Alina is a safety and security expert that has contributed her insights to CNET, CBS, Digital Trends, MTV, Top Ten Reviews, and many others. Her goal is to make safety and security gadgets less mystifying one article at a time. In the early 2000s, Alina worked as a volunteer firefighter, earning her first responder certification and paving the way to her current career. Her activities aren’t nearly as dangerous today. Her hobbies include fixing up her 100-year-old house, doing artsy stuff, and going to the lake with her family.

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