On Wednesday, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fined popular video-sharing and media app TikTok a record $5.7 million for collecting children’s data without parental consent.
The federal agency said in a statement that TikTok was found to be in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which required websites to acquire parents’ permission before collecting data from children younger than 13. FTC Chairman Joe Simon said TikTok—which previously operated now-defunct app Musical.ly—logged children’s names, email addresses, and other personal information without doing so.
The FTC complaint accused app creators of not only being aware that a large percentage of their user base is younger than 13 but of receiving thousands of complaints from parents about their children making Musical.ly accounts despite being younger than 13.
“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,” Simon said.
TikTok allows users to create and share videos and has a commenting and direct message feature. Though accounts could be made private, the FTC complaint stated that private users’ profile pictures and bios remained viewable to non-approved users and that users could direct message private accounts.
The federal agency also claimed it received complaints about adults using the Musical.ly app to try to contact children.
TikTok, which is owned by ByteDance, boasts more than 500 million users worldwide, according to CNN.
The $5.7 million fine is the largest handed down in a children’s privacy case. In light of the landmark ruling, TikTok announced that, effective immediately, younger U.S. users will be relegated to a “limited, separate app” which has additional privacy and safety measures put in place.
We're hearing that a few people are having trouble accessing TikTok today. If you typed the wrong birthday, head to the "Report a Problem" section of the app and provide confirmation that you're age 13 or older by submitting a copy of your government ID.
Not here. In the app.
— TikTok (@tiktok_us) February 27, 2019
The change means that users younger than 13 are unable to share videos on the platform, in addition to comment on videos, message users, and have a profile or followers.
“They will be able to experience what TikTok is at its core–showcasing creativity–as they enjoy curated content and experiment with TikTok’s unique, fanciful, and expressive features,” the company said.
[Featured Image: Wikicommons Fair Use]