The popular video-sharing app TikTok has been fined $15.7 million by the UK’s data watchdog for failing to protect children’s privacy and breaching data protection laws.
In a report released by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), TikTok admitted to using children’s personal information without consent and didn’t verify their ages properly. As a result, the ICO estimated that TikTok would allow about 1.4 million UK children under 13 to use the platform in 2020. This is despite setting 13 as the minimum age to create an account.
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The ICO’s investigation found that TikTok’s data practices between May 2018 and July 2020 violated the UK’s Data Protection Act 2018 and the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which require organizations to obtain explicit and informed consent from parents or guardians before processing children’s data.
The ICO also noted that TikTok’s data collection and processing may have exposed children to harmful or inappropriate content. In addition, it may have told them to target advertising and profiling based on their online behavior. The ICO said TikTok should have known better and done the right thing. It also said that its fine reflects the severe impact its failures may have had on children’s rights and well-being.
TikTok disagreed with the ICO’s decision. However, it was pleased that the fine had been reduced from the initial £27 million the ICO proposed last year. TikTok noted that it had invested heavily to keep under-13s off the platform and ensure community safety. TikTok also said it would continue reviewing the decision and considering its next steps.
It is not the first time TikTok has been criticized for its data practices and content moderation. In February 2021, TikTok agreed to pay $92 million to settle a class-action lawsuit in the US over allegations that it illegally collected users’ biometric data and shared it with third parties.
The Italian data protection authority banned TikTok in June 2021 for failing to protect minors. This was after a 10-year-old girl died while participating in a dangerous challenge on the app. In September 2021, TikTok was fined €750,000 by the Dutch data protection authority for not providing a clear privacy statement in Dutch.
TikTok’s troubles are not over yet, as it faces more investigations and lawsuits from regulators and consumers worldwide. The app is also under pressure from some governments that view it as a national security threat due to its Chinese ownership. However, TikTok has repeatedly denied any links to the Chinese government or military. It said it operated independently and stores data outside China.
TikTok’s case highlights the challenges and risks of operating a global platform that caters to a young and diverse audience. This is especially true in an era of increasing data protection regulations and public awareness. As a result, TikTok will have to improve its compliance and transparency, as well as its communication and cooperation with regulators and users. This is if it wants to avoid further fines and sanctions and maintain its popularity and trust.