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Badroos: The nonchalant era of privacy

Children’s dopamine receptors are fried across the country at the expense of their privacy.
Image by Ava Weinreis

Social media usage in 2022 is drastically different from five years ago. The fast-paced and addictive nature of modern online content often leaves us wondering: Where’d the last hour go?

Your privacy is disregarded through TikTok’s predatory approach to handling user data. While users are caught in the never-ending flow of senseless videos involving the next challenge, hack or societal standard, their data is compromised.

There has never been a video-sharing service that has the same impact on its participants, many with similar experiences of losing vast amounts of time to the addictive nature of the short vertical video.

This is alarming.

One of TikTok’s draws is its scarily well-curated “For You” feed. The app’s ability to create a unique, addictive feed for each of its account holders begs the question: where are they getting all of our personal information?

TikTok’s data collection practices are intrusive. According to the platform’s terms of service, they can keep track of geolocation-related data, browser history and audio-enabled messages. While using the app, they literally have access to your entire phone book, notes and current location to push advertisements and content that will keep your engagement relevant to their participation standards.

This is not hidden information. Instead, it’s explicitly stated in the terms of service. You know, the one that nobody reads.

We live in an era where the distribution of our privacy and personal information is handled nonchalantly. Be honest: How many of you actually read the terms and conditions of your favorite social media platforms? Not many, I’d wager.

When did this sudden shift in protecting our privacy happen? At what point is the ethical line crossed, if it hasn’t been already?

Usually, that line is made clear regarding the online safety of children.

In September, the British Data Protection Agency stepped in to sue TikTok for failing to meet their Children’s Code Privacy Act.

The lawsuit claims that TikTok mishandled sensitive information from children’s accounts and failed to provide underage users with privacy information in terms they could understand.

Many children under 13 have their own devices and social media accounts. Platforms like TikTok take advantage of this demographic’s lack of media literacy to push user engagement and drive viewership numbers up.

This is not the first instance in which TikTok has seen charges for neglecting the privacy of younger audiences.

In recent weeks, California launched its defense plan against the platform with its California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act, which will officially be enforced in 2024. This act aims to help children better understand the terms of service and agreements on their social media platforms, prompting them to understand what data is being shared from their devices. The act also has goals of boosting cyber security when it comes to location-based advertisement targeting.

This raises obvious concerns for parents of children who may be on social media. Parents can be left in the dark regarding the rights of their children when it comes to their online media use.

Caroline Felder is a mother of two girls, 11 and 13, in the Twin Cities. She has considered not allowing her children to download TikTok on their devices out of concern for their privacy.

For Felder, privacy is a bigger concern than her children’s attention spans.

“I’ve heard the concerns over the app playing a negative role on kids’ attention spans with how much they’re scrolling on there. I’ve always set screen time limits for my girls, so that part wasn’t much of a concern for me as long as they didn’t exceed their daily limit,” Felder said. “What concerned me was the talk of their location services being used to target videos and advertisements on their feeds without them knowing.”

Felder said she was stunned when she looked further into TikTok’s data practices.

“I started reading the terms and services of the app itself and what they can legally collect in terms of data because everyone clicks agree to the long list of policies before entering the app,” she said. “I was shocked, honestly, and I asked my kids to remove the app from their phones.”

Felder hopes that other parents also choose to be conscious of their children’s online privacy. “I think it’s an issue that all parents should be aware of – what kind of content and data collection our children are engaging in daily.”

Media literacy in terms of privacy and data collection is imperative in the age of social media. We shouldn’t stand by as corporations profit off of young social media users and the data that lives on their devices.

The next time you’re scrolling on TikTok, consider closing the app and instead reading up on their sneaky terms and conditions.

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