TikTok app fined in US for illegally gathering children's data

Hands on a smartphone showing Tik Tok app interface

In addition to the $5.7 million payment, which is the largest-ever civil penalty obtained by the commission in a children's privacy case, TikTok must take all videos made by children under 13 off its platform.

Of course, app installs are a very different metric than monthly or daily active users, as not every person who downloads an app goes on to become a regular user. but the numbers underscore the meteoric growth TikTok has seen over the a year ago.

Previously, the defunct Musical.ly app enabled users to create short videos lip-syncing to music and share those videos with other users. It also showed profile information and bios for private accounts and allowed direct messages to be sent, according to the FTC complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

Now, TikTok has surpassed the 500 million mark and has hit more than 1 billion downloads on both Android and iOS. According to FTC, the app had failed to refrain from showing children's information on its app despite several requests from parents. "This record penalty should be a reminder to all online services and websites that target children".

TikTok has responded to the news by announcing the launch of a separate in-app experience for those under 13 that "does not permit the sharing of personal information, and it puts extensive limitations on content and user interaction". The company now stated that as part of its agreement with regulators it would create a "separate app experience" for younger users with additional privacy protections. The company has agreed to delete data it collected on children.

Democratic Commissioners Rohit Chopra and Rebecca Slaughter - called the fine a "big win" to protect children online - said in a statement, "As we continue to pursue violations of law, we should prioritize uncovering the role of corporate officers and directors and hold accountable everyone who broke the law".

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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.

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

"Since July 2017, the company has asked about age and prevents people who say they're under 13 from creating accounts".

In the FTC's complaint, officials claimed that TikTok operators violated the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA.

Common Sense Media was part of a coalition of consumer and privacy groups that filed a complaint with the FTC past 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.

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