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TikTok adds 60-minute limit for teens but leaves easy workarounds

TikTok said teens can bypass the hour-long limit by entering a passcode

TikTok announces screen time limits for kids, but they can be easily bypassed. (Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images)
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TikTok announced Wednesday that many teenage users will now be limited to 60 minutes of screen time — that is, until they enter a passcode to bypass the feature and continue scrolling.

The social media company said that app users who have identified themselves as younger than 18 will start getting an automatic message when they hit an hour of daily scrolling. They’ll have to enter a passcode to dismiss the message.

The plan will not limit kids to a strict period of screen time — beyond the ability to enter a passcode, young social media users have been known to misrepresent their ages to avoid features meant for children.

Still, TikTok said similar reminders have been shown to spur users to try to take control of their screen time.

“So we’re also prompting teens to set a daily screen time limit if they opt out of the 60-minute default and spend more than 100 minutes on TikTok in a day,” the company said.

The move comes as TikTok has been under significant political pressure in the United States, where lawmakers from both parties have raised concerns about the app’s security and ties to China. Lawmakers have suggested that TikTok’s ownership by Chinese parent company ByteDance leaves the app open to surveillance and censorship, posing a national security concern.

TikTok has said such concerns are based on “misrepresentations,” and it has launched a charm offensive in Washington in an attempt to persuade lawmakers it is trustworthy.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew told The Washington Post in an exclusive interview last month that the Chinese government has never asked for U.S. user data and that, “even if they did, we believe we don’t have to give it to them because U.S. user data is subject to U.S. law.”

This week, the White House said federal agencies had 30 days to make sure the app had been removed from federal devices, and Canada said it would also ban the app from government-issued phones.

Chew is slated to testify before a House committee on March 23, the first time the company’s CEO will appear on Capitol Hill, where a growing number of lawmakers have been pushing to ban the app entirely in the United States.

Screen time has for years been a focus of lawmakers and advocacy groups who are concerned about the hold social media has on users, and especially on children. Social media companies have tried for years to quell these concerns by adding screen time management features and reminders, but many experts say they don’t go far enough.

Some experts say that the impact of social media on kids’ mental health isn’t fully understood, but others say it has demonstrable effects.

Last month, Big Tech critic Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) introduced a bill to require companies to verify all users are over 16 before letting them use social media sites.

In Wednesday’s announcement, TikTok said parents or guardians would have to set a passcode to bypass the screen time limit for users on the app who are under 13. Those accounts already have limited features and cannot comment on others’ videos or send messages.

Cristiano Lima and Tatum Hunter contributed to this report.