TikTok app fined in US for illegally gathering children’s data

February 28, 2019
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The fast-growing, Chinese-owned video sharing network TikTok agreed to pay a US$5.7 million (S$7.6 million) fine to US authorities to settle charges that it illegally collected personal information from children, officials said on Wednesday (Feb 27).

The Federal Trade Commission said the penalty by the social network, which had been known as Musical.ly, was the largest ever in a children’s privacy investigation.

It has failed to obtain parental consent from its underage users as required by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, FTC officials said.

“This record penalty should be a reminder to all online services and websites that target children: We take enforcement of COPPA very seriously, and we will not tolerate companies that flagrantly ignore the law.” said FTC chairman Joe Simons.

TikTok claimed 500 million users worldwide last year, making it one of the most popular worldwide apps. Owned by China’s ByteDance, it expanded its reach in the US with the merger with Musical.ly.

According to the FTC, the company required users to provide an email address, phone number, username, first and last name, a short biography, and a profile picture. Over 65 million accounts have been registered in the United States.

Officials said the company knew that many of its users were under 13 and should have taken greater precautions.

TikTok has faced criticism around the world for featuring sexually suggestive content inappropriate for children.

TikTok said in a statement it would create a “separate app experience” for younger users with additional privacy protections as part of its agreement with regulators.

“It’s our priority to create a safe and welcoming experience for all of our users, and as we developed the global TikTok platform, we’ve been committed to creating measures to further protect our user community – including tools for parents to protect their teens and for users to enable additional privacy settings,” the statement said.

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