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TikTok imposes sixty minutes screen time limit for teens

Teenagers under the age of 18 in the US must now type a password into TikTok after sixty minutes of daily use if they want to continue. It comes as the platform faces a possible ban and mounting privacy concerns.

Young people in the US will have to input a password if they want to continue using TikTok after an hour of daily use, the platform has announced.

A further prompt to set usage limits will appear if screen time exceeds 100 minutes. Teenagers will also receive a weekly notification with a recap and breakdown of their time on TikTok over the previous seven days.

TikTok says the new initiatives are designed to give users more ‘control’ over their use of the app, and encourage a more conscious experience that reduces mindless scrolling or obsessive behaviours.

The platform has faced growing government pressure over potential spyware and damaging content in recent months.

It has long been treated with suspicion due to its Chinese ownership, but new allegations accuse TikTok of harvesting sensitive user data without permission. Last week, Canadian officials barred the app from being downloaded onto government devices as a cybersecurity measure, following in the footsteps of the EU and Congress.

In the US, legislation banning TikTok on all devices has just been backed by a Republican House committee, who described the app as ‘spy balloon in your phone’. This could mean a potential, widespread shutdown of the app for all US citizens, not just government officials.

A widely-cited study by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate has also found that TikTok poses a significant detrimental threat to the mental wellbeing of young people.

The report states that within 2.6 minutes TikTok ‘recommends suicidal content’ and takes only 8 minutes to display videos relating to eating disorders. It also says that the app recommends videos about body image and mental health to teenagers every 39 seconds.

Most crucially, CCDH calls for a change in TikTok’s ‘opaque’ algorithm in order to protect children who, on average, spend 80 minutes a day scrolling through videos of specific, tailored content.

Speaking to the BBC, chief executive of CCDH Imran Ahmed described the app’s endless feed as the ‘crack cocaine’ of social media content. ‘It is the most addictive, the most dangerous, and the one that needs to be dealt with most urgently.’

TikTok’s introduction of a screen time prompt is likely a move to counteract some of this fierce criticism, though it remains entirely optional and can easily be bypassed. It still leaves watch times up to the individual and offers no hard restrictions. Any significant dip in engagement would hurt its own profits, after all.

Cormac Keenan, head of trust and safety at TikTok, stated that researchers had a significant hand in creating these new limits. He was quick to undermine the seriousness of screen time on mental wellbeing, however.

‘While there’s no collectively endorsed position on the “right” amount of screen time, or even the impact of screen time more broadly, we consulted experts from Digital Wellness Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital.’

What happens next for TikTok in the US is anybody’s guess. We may see a full ban in some countries or, at the very least, increasingly severe restrictions for young and vulnerable users. There’ll no doubt be further research conducted and inevitable damning criticisms in the coming months.