Is TikTok the New Google? (Plus, How to Get Started on TikTok Safely)
You’ve most likely heard of TikTok or have family or friends constantly on it. If you don’t use TikTok, you may wonder what all the fuss is about. TikTok is a free social media app where people create, share, and watch short videos. The 1 billion+ TikTok users can also send text messages to other users. Similar to other social media apps, TikTok users can follow, like, and comment on videos. So, where did TikTok come from? What is its history? Why is it so popular? Launched in 2016 by the Chinese company ByteDance, TikTok’s growth skyrocketed after it acquired another social media app Musical.ly and entered the U.S. social media scene in 2017. Here are a few numbers that show TikTok’s popularity:
- 61.3% of the Gen Z population uses TikTok at least once a month (Insider Intelligence)
- 58% of teens 13 to 17 use TikTok at least once a day (Insider Intelligence)
- One-third of TikTok users routinely get their news from the app (The Verge)
What Does TikTok Do?
Creators, such as celebrities and everyday people, create TikTok videos on various topics. While the main draw to TikTok is entertainment, with millions of music and dance videos, other popular videos include life hacks, pets, DIY and home renovation, fitness and sports, fashion, recipes/cooking, news, and beauty/skincare. Gen Z searches TikTok for goods and services such as top clothing trends, beauty products, travel accommodations, and even nearby businesses. And, thanks to an algorithm, TikTok offers a feature called the For You Page, a continuous scrolling feed filled with videos based on your interests.
So, Is TikTok the New Google?
According to Google executives (as reported by Techcrunch), 40% of 18 to 24-year-olds use TikTok and Instagram for “Google-able” things.
For example, searching local restaurants on Google would result in a list of websites where you find further information about each restaurant. When TikTok users search the app about restaurants in their area, TikTok begins a feed of videos that may feature local restaurants mixed with those not even close to the area searched.
Why would someone prefer this type of restaurant search over a map search? It’s all about visual-type users.
While Google presents linked webpages, TikTok offers you visual search results — real-life content that can give you a better sense of what it is you’re looking for. For example, when searching for a restaurant, TikTok videos may show the outside and the inside of an eatery along with some of the dishes and possibly menus or receipts. They may also talk about the service they received. In this regard, TikTok is like Yelp’s show-off younger sibling.
Google still leads as a search engine over TikTok is for basic things like “what day does Easter fall on in 2023?” or “how many cups are in a quart?” It’s also still the go-to search engine for users age 25 and older.
Is TikTok Safe?
Some people have concerns about TikTok’s data harvesting and allegations of its ties to the Chinese government. Like other websites and apps, TikTok gathers data on its users and presents the potential for scams if users unknowingly click malicious links and end up downloading malware.
Fears over the truthfulness of news covered on TikTok raises concerns for some, an issue we’ve seen on other sites, including Facebook. TikTok uses an in-app browser, which is used by other apps, like Instagram. This means when users leave the app via a bio link or ad link, they remain in the app even though they may move to different browsers like Chrome when viewing pages outside of the original app.
Although this practice isn’t in breach of any privacy agreements, it raises concerns about apps tracking users to gather information. When consumers learn a company collects personal data, allows misinformation (especially politically themed) on their platform, and tracks users’ behavior online, consumers worry about data breaches and their information falling into the wrong hands.
How to Use TikTok (Safely)
Now that you know what TikTok is, it’s time to learn how to use it safely. If you’re new to the app the first thing to do is download the TikTok app. Next, sign up for an account and create your profile. That’s it. You can start watching videos, like them with the heart icon, comment with the talk bubble icon, or follow people by tapping the plus sign under their profile image. Hit the arrow to share the video you’re viewing. Click the magnifying glass in the top right corner to search for a topic or something, person, or place; remember, you can search for anything “Googleable.”
Here are a few tips to keep yourself and your personal info safe while using TikTok (or any social media platform!).
- Set your account to private: When you create a TikTok profile it is public by default so other users can see what you view and can reach out to you. To set your account to private go into your profile page (the bottom right corner) and tap the hamburger menu in the upper right corner and choose Settings and privacy. Turn on Private account.
- Limit who can DM you: While in Settings and privacy, tap the Direct messages option to select who can send you messages through the app.
- Enable 2-step validation: To set up 2-step verification so no one else can access your Tiktok account, go to Settings and privacy then Security, and turn on 2-step verification following the prompts.
- Limit data tracking for ads: Select Ads under the Security section in Settings and you can disable the Using Off TikTok activity for ad targeting to limit the data they gather from your activity outside of TikTok. You’ll still get ads, but they’ll be more random and potentially less relevant.
- Don’t sync other apps: Opting to not sync your contacts and Facebook friends in Settings/Privacy/Sync contacts and Facebook friends will help limit the amount of information TikTok gathers.
- Use screen time limits: To limit the time you spend on TikTok, simply tap the Screen time option under Content & Display in Settings and privacy. You can select reminders to get off the app after a certain period, reminders to take breaks using the app, sleep reminders, and weekly screen time updates so you can see how much time you’ve spent on Tiktok for the week.
Child Settings for TikTok
If you’re a parent, you can protect your child’s privacy by enabling a feature called Family Pairing under the Content & Display section. This setting allows you to set time limits for how long your child can be on the app, whether their account is private or public, limit who can send messages to your child, and manage their other safety and privacy settings, and what kind of content is in your child’s feed.