TikTok is in hot water yet again, this time for failing to protect its youthful users in spite of its promise to do so — and if history repeats, it might have to pay another seven-figure fine if this complaint bears fruit.
The complaint was filed by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for Digital Democracy, along with a dozen other groups. The gist of it is that TikTok continues to thumb its nose at rules designed to protect the privacy of children by leaving videos featuring them up, and fails to obtain parental consent before gathering data on said younger users.
Last year, TikTok (and its predecessor Musical.ly) paid a $5.7 million settlement to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in light of allegations it’d violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). According to the FTC, the app failed to obtain the necessary parental consent before collecting data on accounts children were making. As Chairman Joe Simons said at the time: “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.”
The payment was a record-breaker, and the hope was that it was enough to chasten the then-fledgling social media service into being more careful. Simons went on to say, “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.”
Except, according to this complaint, that’s not the case:
Contrary to the terms of the consent decree, TikTok fails to make reasonable efforts to ensure that a parent of a child receives direct notice of its practices regarding the collection, use, or disclosure of personal information. Indeed, TikTok does not at any point contact the child’s parents to give them notice and does not even ask for contact information for the child’s parents.
Given how massive TikTok is, one wonders whether it might not just pay whatever massive fine the FTC levies at it and keep doing what it’s doing. TikTok’s popularity with a youthful audience is what boosted it high enough to compete with the likes of Instagram and Snapchat, so I don’t see the company behind it relinquishing that gracefully.
A TikTok spokesperson told the New York Times: “We take privacy seriously and are committed to helping ensure that TikTok continues to be a safe and entertaining community for our users.”