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TikTok is amping up its parental controls today with a feature that lets parents remotely set restrictions on their kids’ accounts. The new feature, called Family Pairing, allows parents to link their kids’ accounts to their own, where they’ll be able to disable direct messages, turn on restricted content mode, and set screen time limits.
The update is a big step forward from where TikTok was a year ago. In February 2019, the company paid $5.7 million to the Federal Trade Commission over alleged violations of a children’s privacy law, in part for allowing users under 13 years old to sign up without parental consent. TikTok has since made changes to comply with the law, and it’s added features like screen time limits to give users and parents more control over the app, which is incredibly popular with teens. TikTok began rolling out these same features, under the name “Family Safety Mode,” in Europe earlier this year.
Today’s update makes those limits a lot easier to set. Once two accounts are linked, parents can control a kid’s settings from their own phone. Previously, they’d have to set these restrictions within the app on their kid’s device. TikTok offered passcodes so that some settings couldn’t be turned off without consent, but it was clearly a less convenient solution and didn’t put the controls directly in parents’ hands.
Parents will still have to get their kids to agree to have their accounts linked under the new system. To set it up, parents need to scan a QR code inside the digital wellbeing section of their kid’s account. Kids will be able to disable the feature at any time, though there are some roadblocks: parents will receive a notification, and they’ll have a chance to re-link the account in case it was disconnected by accident.
Along with the new features, TikTok is also making another change today: it’s disabling direct messages for all users under 16. BuzzFeed News reported last year that the app had issues with predators messaging younger users.