TikTok to develop parental tools amid U.S. scrutiny

STORY: Facing growing scrutiny over a range of issues, TikTok said this week that it's developing new parental controls to prevent teens from viewing inappropriate content and from spending too much time on the app.

It comes as the Chinese-owned company's future in the U.S. appears uncertain, as the app has been banned from government-owned phones in the United States, Canada and other countries over TikTok's proximity to the Chinese government.

Sheila Dang, social media reporter for Reuters, breaks down the recent changes as the company looks to shore up its public image.

"There are two different things that TikTok announced this week. The major one is that they are working on a new feature that would let parents block their teens from seeing videos that contain certain words or hashtags. And TikTok said they're in the early stages of developing that in consultation with civil society organizations. And TikTok has also launched several features that encourage users to spend less time on TikTok. So one of these is users under 18 will be automatically defaulted to one hour per day. And in order to go over that, they'll have to enter a passcode and make a conscious decision to go over. And parents will also have the ability to customize how much time their teens are allowed to spend on the app per day, depending on the day of the week, for instance."

But concerns about using TikTok aren't limited to teens.

The White House this week gave government employees 30 days to ensure they do not have it on federal devices over fears that user data could end up in the hands of the Chinese government.

On the same day TikTok announced it was developing new parental controls, the Republican-controlled House Foreign Affairs Committee voted to give President Joe Biden unprecedented power to ban TikTok, in what would be the most far-reaching U.S. restriction on any social media app.

"This is a very critical moment for them because they have for years faced a lot of concern about their proximity to the Chinese government, their ability to protect user data, and especially the data of its very young user base. These new tools that TikTok announced are part of an ongoing charm offensive that TikTok has launched in order to fight back against these national security concerns. And it's unclear how exactly a ban on TikTok would work, but the bill would allow President Biden to ban any transactions with TikTok, which would mean it would be really difficult to download TikTok on your phone. Presumably, it would also mean that advertisers wouldn't be able to buy ads on TikTok. And that would essentially mean that TikTok would be unavailable to users or business partners in the US."

The fate of the measure to grant Biden the power to ban TikTok is still uncertain and faces significant hurdles before it can become law.

Democrats opposed the bill, saying it was rushed and required due diligence through debate and consultation with experts.

Meanwhile, Biden has not said whether he was in favor of moving ahead with the bill or not, and the administration has not said if it believed Biden has the legal authority to ban TikTok.