TikTok Fined in US for Illegally Gathering Children's Data

Hands on a smartphone showing Tik Tok app interface

TikTok told the BBC it did not plan to provide the under-13 experience to users outside of the United States, and instead would continue to limit use to those 13 and above. "This is an ongoing commitment, and we are continuing to expand and evolve our protective measures in support of this".

TikTok, the app which allows millions of teenagers to bask in their own glory for 15 seconds at a time by lip-synching to popular music videos and sharing the clips with friends has become the most downloaded on Apple's App Store in the first half of 2018, according to market analysis firm Sensor Tower, beating out titans like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. The merging of the two apps past year helped propel TikTok to become one of the most popular apps of 2018.

The Beijing based social network has more than 500 million active users and the company is now worth more than $75 billion (£58 billion).

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Wednesday (February 27) struck China's popular over-the-top (OTT) video sharing app, TikTok, with $5.7 Mn fine to settle allegations for illegally collecting personal information - names, email addresses, location - from children under the age of 13. The FTC also reported receiving thousands of complaints from parents of young children using the app.

The company was also said to have not responded adequately to parents' requests to delete data, and subsequently held onto that data for longer than was reasonable. TikTok launched a series of safety videos Wednesday, and said it will filter younger users into an app experience with stricter protections.

Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., one of the authors of COPPA, said in a statement that while this may be a record-high fine, it's not high enough given the harm done to children and the need to deter other companies from doing the same thing.

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"In fact, as the complaint notes, there have been public reports of adults trying to contact children via the Musical.ly app", notes the FTC press release.

Of course, TikTok's newfound dedication to keeping children off its platform is running into a few glitches.

The FTC says it weighed a number of factors in levying the fine, including the company's degree of culpability and ability to pay.

The agency has come under increasing pressure to strengthen enforcement of children's online privacy.

Common Sense Media was part of a coalition of consumer and privacy groups that filed a complaint with the FTC previous year alleging YouTube routinely violates COPPA, but the commission - as is its standard practice when receiving complaints - has declined to comment on whether it is pursuing an investigation.

The case started after a referral from the Better Business Bureau's Children's Advertising Review Unit.

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