TikTok is clearly popular with younger users, which is part of the reason it’s appealing to advertisers and potential buyers. But just how young are TikTok users? According to The New York Times, as much as a third of TikTok’s 49 million users in the US may be 14 years old or younger. That raises the question over whether TikTok is doing enough to protect its younger users, and it may cause potential buyers to reconsider purchasing the app.
In July, 18 million daily TikTok users in the US were 14 or younger. For comparison, 20 million daily TikTok users in the US were over-14. The rest were classified as an unknown age.
TikTok asks users to self-report their birthdays, and it uses tools like facial recognition to estimate users’ ages. Users under 13 only have access to a walled-off mode within the app, and they can’t share personal info or videos. But it wouldn’t be hard to lie to get around age restrictions. The app doesn’t ask for consent from guardians, and videos seem to slip through the cracks. One former TikTok employee told The New York Times that videos of children who appeared to be younger than 14 were allowed to remain online for weeks.
“As is standard practice across our industry,” the company conducts “high-level age-modeling to better understand our users and allow our safety team to better protect the safety of our younger teens in particular,” TikTok said in a statement provided to The New York Times.
The stakes are fairly high. If TikTok is found to be in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which requires parental permission before internet platforms collect personal info on children under 13, it could face hefty fines. Of course, TikTok knows this, it already paid $5.7 million on behalf of Musical.ly over reported COPPA violations. Now, with TikTok facing President Trump’s ultimatum to sell its US operations before September 15th or be shut down, there’s more on the line.