TikTok will automatically impose a 60-minute time limit for users under age 18, an attempt to mitigate the app’s addictive nature and address concerns about its impact on teens.
The new approach will require younger users to enter a password if they want to binge more than an hour of videos at one time, the company said in a blog post Wednesday. Parents and other adults can also monitor the amount of time teens spend on the app — with a breakdown of daytime vs. nighttime use — and see the number of times it was opened.
The 60-minute limit will be the default for users under 18, though it can be removed.
It’s a critical time for TikTok, owned by ByteDance Ltd., to demonstrate that it’s doing all it can to be a safe space for users. The company is facing intense global scrutiny that could lead to the app being banned in some of its largest markets. Legislators and regulators have two chief lines of concern: whether TikTok’s ownership by a Chinese tech company presents national security risks and how users — especially young ones — could be influenced by the videos they see on the app.
Similar curbs are already in place for TikTok’s Chinese cousin Douyin. ByteDance’s local service currently has a setting that limits users under the age of 14 to 40 minutes a day and keeps them out entirely from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily — restrictions that are easier to enforce in China where there are strict rules around real-name registration. It’s unclear whether TikTok’s measures will be as effective in the U.S. where children may be able to opt out of the restrictions or set their own passwords to unlock accounts.
As part of the latest changes, adults can also mute notifications for teens if their accounts are connected through the Family Pairing tool and apply a custom time limit. If there is no time restriction for a teen account, the young user will receive a notification when they spend more than 100 minutes on the app in a day, with a prompt to set up a limit.
For TikTok, the time people spend on the app is equal parts badge of honor and point of contention. It leads the social media industry by this measure, with users spending an average of 95 minutes a day on the app globally, according to a report last year from Sensor Tower. YouTube came in second with 74 minutes, while Instagram had 51.
TikTok’s personalized feed keeps users hooked and helps sell ads — the company’s main source of revenue. But it’s also what has policymakers concerned.
A bipartisan group of U.S. state attorneys general are probing whether TikTok’s marketing to young users can lead to physical and mental harms. And the state of Indiana has gone so far as to sue the company over risks to adolescent users.
In Congress, meanwhile, lawmakers have introduced a number of bills that aim to ban the app over the national security risks posed by its Chinese ownership. The Biden administration is conducting its own review through the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S.
Last week, the European Commission barred staff from using TikTok, just one month after Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said the EU would ban the platform if it didn’t follow content moderation and data rules.
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