TikTok Rolled Out Digital Avatars But Are They Safe?

On June 7th, 2022, social media behemoth TikTok rolled out a new feature that lets users create digital, animated avatars to showcase their personal style and look. Users can choose from a range of accessories, hairstyles, and makeup, and the move rivals Snapchat’s Bitmoji feature, which launched in 2016 after Snapchat acquired the company Bitstrips. Through advancements in technology, digital avatars have become more lifelike, which is one of the many reasons they are growing in popularity on social media. That said, digital avatars didn’t start on social media.

In fact, they have been part of the gaming experience for decades. Most recently, we saw Roblox acquire digital avatar company Loom.ai, and in 2020, Epic Games earned around $4 billion from Fortnite. It’s estimated a significant percentage of this figure came from the sale of in-game character skins.

Even though TikTok’s new avatar creation feature is likely to be a global success, research has shown that digital avatars have the potential to negatively impact users. For example, according to this Science Daily article, studies have found that the connotations of our virtual characters can remind us of common stereotypes, which can cause us to think or behave in particular ways.

Creating these perfect, idealized versions of ourselves can also negatively affect how people look at themselves in the real world. There’s also the question of deception since someone could create a digital avatar that looks like your friend or relative and trick you into giving them money or your personal details.

The Dangers Of Social Media

While it’s fun to create an animated version of yourself, digital avatars are another element of social media that people have to be careful with. Social media is a breeding ground for cybercriminals, which is why it’s so important for users to take the necessary steps to maintain their privacy and increase their safety. We often don’t think about all the ways our photos on social media platforms like Instagram reveal our location or identity.

However, through metadata, geolocation data, and linking different accounts, cybercriminals can learn about you and your whereabouts. Fortunately, there are ways to stay private on social media. For instance, as per ExpressVPN’s social media infographic, some of the best ways to post with privacy are to remove meta and geolocation data from your photos before posting. You should also only tag your location after you’ve left and don’t allow other people to tag you in photos.

Social media is about sharing your life, but we don’t want to overshare to the point that strangers have unlimited access to our personal lives. Again, this is a possible risk factor of digital avatars since even the animated versions of ourselves can tell cybercriminals what we look like and what we sound like. 

Source: Pixabay

Over the last two years, TikTok has rolled out several new features to promote creativity on the app, including Effect House. According to an article posted on the TikTok Newsroom, this feature lets anyone build effects for the app. The latest feature is TikTok Avatars, and even though this new feature will be fun to play around with, it’s important to remember digital avatars can have negative impacts on users. Protecting your privacy and identity is crucial and not just in terms of removing geolocation data from the photos you post. 

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