TikTok to Pay Record Fine After Violating Children’s Privacy

The Federal Trade Commission just inked a settlement with video social network TikTok (which merged with Musical.ly last year) over the charge that its app illegally collected children’s personal information. A large percent of users are under 13, and the personal information collected — without asking for parental permission — included email addresses, names and schools. The site refused to delete video and other data when requested by some parents. The FTC said the $5.7 million settlement is a record for a child privacy violation.

The New York Times also notes that the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act requires that such online services receive parents’ permission before collecting data of those under 13 years.

“We take enforcement of COPPA very seriously, and we will not tolerate companies that flagrantly ignore the law,” said FTC chair Joseph Simons. The settlement comes on the heels of several children’s advocacy groups asking the FTC to investigate Facebook for luring children into making in-app purchases.

In 2017, ByteDance, a Chinese Internet conglomerate, bought Musical.ly, which had 65 million users in the U.S. three years previously, and merged it with TikTok, an app ByteDance already operated. The TikTok app lets users create and share short videos. FTC investigated the app after a complaint to the Better Business Bureau and coverage by several news outlets.

Among the FTC’s findings were that “user accounts were public by default and adults were able to contact users, regardless of their age.” According to NYT, “when some parents asked to have the data of their children deleted, TikTok deleted a child’s account but retained videos and personal account information about those users on its servers.”

TikTok has responded to the FTC’s action by unveiling a separate app for children under 13. This new app “will not permit the sharing of personal information and puts limits on what content can be posted and shared.”

“While we’ve always seen TikTok as a place for everyone, we understand the concerns that arise around younger users,” it stated. “In working with the FTC and in conjunction with today’s agreement, we’ve now implemented changes to accommodate younger U.S. users in a limited, separate app experience that introduces additional safety and privacy protections designed specifically for this audience.”