A UK privacy watchdog penalised TikTok $15.8 million for what it alleges are many infractions of data protection laws, including how the service handled children’s personal data.
According to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), TikTok enabled up to 1.4 million children under the age of 13 to use the app in violation of its own policies in 2020.
The ICO states that organisations must first get consent from customers’ parents or legal guardians before offering “information society services” to minors under the age of 13.
The regulator stated TikTok didn’t do that and that it “ought to have been aware that under-13s were utilising its site.”
Moreover, the ICO (an independent public authority) said that TikTok did not take sufficient steps to identify and ban minors from the service, despite several senior staff members voicing concerns.
The office found that TikTok violated the UK General Data Protection Regulation in a number of ways between May 2018 and July 2020.
The ICO claims TikTok, among other things, failed to adequately disclose to users in an understandable manner how it manages and shares personal data.
Users of TikTok, particularly children, “were unlikely to be able to make educated decisions about whether and how to interact” with the programme as a result.
The agency further stated that TikTok had not ensured that it was “lawfully, equitably, and in a transparent way” processing the data it had on UK users.
“We invest heavily to help keep under-13s off the platform and our 40,000-strong safety team works around the clock to help keep the platform safe for our community,”
“We will continue to review the decision and are considering next steps.”
The penalty is not as severe as first anticipated. The ICO issued a warning to TikTok in September after disclosing the early findings of its inquiry, which began in February 2019.
The business could have been fined up to £27 million ($33.7 million). The investigation began at the same time the Federal Trade Commission penalised TikTok $5.7 million for violating children’s privacy.
TikTok has recently been under closer scrutiny from regulators all across the world because to concerns about privacy and security. Other governments have expressed fear that the platform’s parent business ByteDance, which is located in Beijing, would be forced to give Chinese authorities information about the citizens of their nations.
ByteDance is not an agent of China or any other government, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Wei said in a statement to a House committee last month.
However in a number of countries, including the US, UK, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Norway, and the European Parliament, the software has been outlawed on official devices. Some US jurisdictions have also outlawed TikTok on their own smartphones.
While TikTok has alleged the White House is attempting to push ByteDance to sell the app, many laws have been presented that would provide the US the authority to entirely prohibit the site.