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TikTok and the privacy of teenagers

TikTok is particularly popular with young people and has been criticized for its low data protection standards, among other things. A recent study examined for the first time how young people aged 12 to 18 manage their privacy on TikTok with regard to personal videos.

Text: Johanna Seiwald, ZHAW digital

The research team conducted interviews with 54 teenagers. Some of the key findings of the study are:

  • The young people in the sample are actively involved in managing their privacy.
  • Motivations: Avoiding publicity or negative reactions/emotions, actively achieving privacy and privacy as a personal value beyond TikTok.
  • Examples of privacy management strategies: “Private Creators” only use the platform to create and edit videos and share them on other social networks (e.g. WhatsApp, Snapchat). “Public creators”, for example, use different accounts for different target groups, only share certain content publicly and try to recognize fake followers.
  • Respondents were more concerned about protecting their privacy from their immediate social circle than from institutional or commercial privacy issues.
  • Many of the young people surveyed had already published content on TikTok long before the legal age of 13.

Based on the findings, the researchers propose various concrete measures to develop interventions that protect the privacy of young people on TikTok (p. 230-231):

  • TikTok users: Consciously share/delete content; use alternative social media apps to share TikToks; secure user data to prevent account loss; enable privacy settings.
  • TikTok platform: Improve privacy features such as user blocking, age verification; access lost user accounts; provide privacy tutorials; do not pressure users to share personal content publicly.
  • Family, friends, schools, youth workers: Supporting children’s privacy efforts; highlighting long-term privacy risks; explaining TikTok’s business model; using TikTok to understand privacy issues.
  • Politicians and privacy activists: Creating and enforcing privacy laws.
  • Other TikTok users: Mentoring and warning less experienced users about privacy issues.
  • Operating system providers and providers of other apps: Enforcing app privacy in the operating system; providing maintenance features to remove personal content from public apps.

The study was conducted by researchers from CYREN ZH, among others. In addition to Nico Ebert (ZHAW) and Melanie Knieps (UZH), Tim Geppert (ZHAW), Joanna Strycharz (University of Amsterdam), Michael Hönig (ZHAW) and Elke Brucker-Kley (ZHAW) were also involved.

Nico Ebert was interviewed by Christian Seewald for a report on SRF.