Britain’s privacy watchdog fined TikTok millions of dollars on Tuesday for misusing children’s data and breaching other protections for young users’ personal information.
The Information Commissioner’s Office said it had fined the short video-sharing app popular with young people 12.7 million pounds ($15.9 million).
It is the latest example of TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance, facing heightened scrutiny in the West, where governments are increasingly concerned about the risks the app poses to data privacy and cybersecurity.
U.K. regulators, which are investigating a data breach between May 2018 and July 2020, say TikTok allowed as many as 1.4 million children under 13 in the U.K. to use the app in 2020, despite the platform’s own rules prohibiting age groups from using the app. Set up accounts for young children.
The watchdog said TikTok did not adequately identify and remove children under the age of 13 from the platform. The agency said that although it knew young children were using the app, TikTok had failed to obtain their parents’ consent to process their data, as required by UK data protection law.
“There are laws in place to ensure our children are as safe in the digital world as they are in the real world. TikTok has failed to comply with these laws,” Information Commissioner John Edwards said in a release.
He said TikTok collected and used the personal data of children who accessed the app inappropriately.
“That means their data may have been used to track them and profile them, potentially providing harmful, inappropriate content on their next roll,” Edwards said.
The company said it disagreed with the regulator’s decision.
“We invest heavily to help keep users under the age of 13 off our platform, and our 40,000-person security team works around the clock to help keep the platform safe for our community,” TikTok said in a statement. decided and is considering the next steps.”
TIkTok said that since the breach, it has improved its registration system to no longer allow users to simply declare they are old enough and look for other indications that an account is being used by someone under the age of 13.
The penalties also include other breaches of UK data privacy laws.
The watchdog said TikTok failed to properly inform people in an understandable way how their data was being collected, used and shared. Without that information, it said, younger users were less likely to “make informed choices” about whether and how to use TikTok.
TikTok also failed to ensure that personal data of British users was processed lawfully, fairly and transparently, the watchdog said.
TikTok initially faced a £27m fine, which was reduced after the company persuaded regulators to drop other charges.
U.S. regulators fined TikTok (formerly known as Musical.ly) $5.7 million in 2019 over similar allegations of illegally collecting personal information from children.
Also on Tuesday, Australia became the latest country to ban TikTok from its government devices, with EU and U.S. authorities concerned that the app could share data with the Chinese government or promote a pro-Beijing narrative. U.S. lawmakers are also considering a forced sale or even a complete ban on it as tensions with China mount.
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