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Technology

Keeping apps safe requires vigilance

Hundreds of Hong Kong children, some as young as nine, are exposing their identities, thoughts and even flesh to strangers via one of Asia’s most popular short video platforms. For the company involved, such popularity and influence also means greater social and moral responsibility

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 May, 2018, 7:09am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2018, 6:01pm

Smartphones and social media have taken the world by storm, with new apps of all sorts springing up one after another every day. But as we enjoy the convenience and fun brought by these online applications, we also expose ourselves to privacy leaks and criminal threats. This applies not just to adult users, but increasingly, children as well.

It is disturbing to learn that hundreds of Hong Kong children, some as young as nine, are exposing their identities, thoughts and even flesh to strangers via one of Asia’s most popular short video platforms.

Lip syncing, finger dancing – Hong Kong kids go crazy for Tik Tok

A pupil in Primary Six told the South China Morning Post that he did not mind disclosing his identity, apparently believing that the app and media coverage would help boost his fame.

Many children are perhaps too innocent to appreciate the risk of sharing their routine or special moments on Tik Tok, a spin-off from the mainland app Douyin. But by doing so, they risk becoming the targets of the unscrupulous.

Among the videos viewed by the Post, at least three contained suggestive content. Another showed a girl injuring herself with a cutter while grumbling about studying.

Why are Hong Kong children obsessed with Tik Tok app — and is it safe?

Many apps set the minimum age for usage and regulate the content shared. In the case of Tik Tok, usage is restricted to age 16 and above. But it would not be surprising if children fake their age or ignore the fine print to sign up.

The app markets itself as encouraging users to “let their imagination run wild and set their expressions free”. But like other tools for social networking, it can be easily abused for stalking or grooming by paedophiles.

So far no abuses have been reported in Hong Kong. But a 10-year-old girl on the mainland was reportedly harassed by a man through the app.

Having built a base of 100 million users in two years, Douyin and Tik Tok are becoming among the most internationally used Chinese apps. But with high popularity and influence comes greater social and moral responsibility.

The company said it had put in place privacy settings, keyword filters and ways to remove inappropriate content. But with a billion videos viewed across the region every day, enforcement is a challenge.

Opinion: Why Hong Kong parents to blame for children risking their safety online

Parents, too, need to do their homework by keeping a close watch on their children’s digital footprints. More policing and vigilance are needed to keep online apps safe to use.