Chinese-owned mobile application TikTok has been fined $5.7 million (around Rs 40.42 crore) in the United States for illegally collecting personal information from children without parental consent. The US Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday said the penalty was the largest ever in an investigation related to children’s privacy.
TikTok, earlier known as Musical.ly, is a popular mobile application that allows users to create short lip-synced videos.
According to the trade commission’s complaint, filed by the Department of Justice, Musical.ly violated provisions of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act that mandates websites and online services directed towards children to obtain parental consent before collecting personal information from those under the age of 13.
“The operators of Musical.ly – now known as TikTok – knew many children were using the app but they still failed to seek parental consent before collecting names, email addresses, and other personal information from users under the age of 13,” said Federal Trade Commission chairperson Joe Simons. “This record penalty should be a reminder to all online services and websites that target children: We take enforcement of COPPA [Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act] very seriously, and we will not tolerate companies that flagrantly ignore the law.”
According to the commission, TikTok required users to provide an email address, phone number, user name, first and last name, a short biography, and a profile picture. Officials said the app was aware that a significant percentage of its users was younger than 13 and had failed to take precautions.
“In our view, these practices reflected the company’s willingness to pursue growth even at the expense of endangering children,” AFP quoted a statement from commissioners Rohit Chopra and Rebecca Kelly Slaughter as saying. “The agency secured a record-setting civil penalty and deletion of ill-gotten data, as well as other remedies to stop this egregious conduct. This is a big win in the fight to protect children’s privacy.”
In addition to the fine, the settlement also requires the app’s operators to comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act in the future and take offline all videos made by children under the age of 13.
In a statement, TikTok said it would create a “separate app experience” for younger US users with additional privacy protections and safety. “In working with the FTC [Federal Trade Commission] and in conjunction with today’s agreement, we’ve now implemented changes to accommodate younger US users in a limited, separate app experience that introduces additional safety and privacy protections designed specifically for this audience,” it said.
Last month, the Tamil Nadu government had said it will seek the Centre’s help to ban TikTok, claiming it was “damaging” to Indian culture. All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MLA Thamimun Ansari had claimed the app was pushing the younger generation on the path of cultural degeneration and had led to the spread of sexually explicit content.