The UK’s data watchdog has fined TikTok $15.8 million for its failure to protect the privacy of children. According to an investigation carried out by Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), TikTok used the data of children of this age without parental consent. The investigation revealed that the Chinese app allowed up to1.4 million UK children under the age of 13 to make use of its platform in 2020.
According to the ICO, many children were able to access the site despite TikTok setting 13 as the minimum age to create an account. This of course exposed them to vulnerabilities, and inappropriate content.
Information commissioner John Edwards said per the BBC: “There are laws in place to make sure our children are as safe in the digital world as they are in the physical world. TikTok did not abide by those laws.
“As a consequence, an estimated one million under-13s were inappropriately granted access to the platform, with TikTok collecting and using their personal data.
“TikTok should have known better. TikTok should have done better. Our £12.7m fine reflects the serious impact their failures may have had.”
The commissioner later told the BBC that TikTok had “taken no steps” to obtain parental consent.
“When you sign up you can be targeted for advertising, you can be profiled, your data contributes to an algorithm which feeds content,” he said.
“If you’ve been looking at content which is not appropriate for your age, that can get more and more extreme.
“It can be quite harmful for people who are not old enough to fully appreciate the implications and to make appropriate choices.”
Responding to the fine, a TikTok spokesperson told the BBC said: “our 40,000-strong safety team works around the clock to help keep the platform safe for our community“.
“While we disagree with the ICO’s decision, which relates to May 2018 – July 2020, we are pleased that the fine announced today has been reduced to under half the amount proposed last year. We will continue to review the decision and are considering next steps.”
In January, TikTok that it was expanding its audience controls feature. The features give creators on the platform the ability to restrict their video to adult viewers. Prior to this update, the controls feature was only available for TikTok Live.
The feature works similarly to the adult-only livestreams on TikTok; the 18+ restriction setting for video is not a way for creators to display adult content, as the content is still subject to TikTok’s policies. The feature from TikTok’s point of view is to help creators prevent minors from coming across content targeted at adult audience.