The changes come amid growing concerns around the world about the app’s security and ability to push certain content.
TikTok has said that any user’s account under the age of 18 will have a default daily screen time limit of 60 minutes in the coming weeks. The changes come at a time when there are growing concerns among several governments about the security of the app and its ability to change the algorithm to push certain messages.
The update, announced on Wednesday, also reflects game rules imposed on minors in China, where TikTok’s parent company ByteDance was formerly based. It has since moved to Singapore. In 2021, Chinese authorities issued new rules limiting the amount of time minors can play online games to just one hour a day and only on Fridays, weekends and holidays – an effort to curb internet addiction.
In the United States, families are struggling to limit the amount of time their children spend on the Chinese video-sharing app. According to the Pew Research Center, about two-thirds of American teens use TikTok.
Cormac Keenan, head of trust and security at TikTok, said in a blog post Wednesday that when the 60-minute limit is reached, minors will be asked to enter a passcode and make an “active decision” to keep watching. For accounts where the user is under the age of 13, a parent or guardian must set or enter an existing access code to allow an additional 30 minutes of viewing time once the initial limit of 60 minutes is reached.
TikTok said it came to the 60-minute threshold by consulting academic research and experts at the Digital Wellness Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital.
There have long been concerns about what minors are being exposed to on social media and the potential harm it can do. A report released late last year suggested TikTok’s algorithms promote self-harm and eating disorder videos to vulnerable teens. Instagram, which is owned by Facebook parent Meta, has also faced similar allegations.
Social media algorithms work by identifying topics and content of interest to a user, who are then sent more of the same as a way to maximize their time on the site. But social media critics say the same algorithms that promote content about a particular sports team, hobby, or dance craze can send users down a rabbit hole of malicious content.
TikTok also said on Wednesday it will begin asking teens to set a daily screen time limit if they opt out of the standard 60-minute time. The company sends weekly inbox notifications to teen accounts with a summary of screen time.
Some of TikTok’s existing security features for teen accounts include accounts defaulting to private for people between the ages of 13 and 15, and direct messages are only available for accounts where the user is 16 or older.
TikTok has announced a number of changes for all users, including the ability to set custom screen time limits for each day of the week and allow users to set a schedule to mute notifications.
The company is also launching a sleep reminder to help people schedule when they want to be offline at night. For the sleep feature, users can set a time and when the time comes, a pop-up reminds the user that it’s time to log out.
Aside from the exorbitant use by some minors, concern about the app is growing around the world. The European Parliament, European Commission and Council of the European Union have banned the installation of TikTok on official devices.
That follows similar actions by the US federal government, Congress and more than half of the 50 US states. Canada has also banned TikTok from government devices.
Republicans in the US House of Representatives are pushing for a bill that would allow President Joe Biden to ban the app nationwide, drawing opposition from some civil liberties groups who argue such a move would be unconstitutional. The legislation was approved along partisan lines by the Republican-controlled House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday. The bill has yet to receive a vote on the floor of the House and Senate.