ByteDance's TikTok hit with $5.7 million fine over child privacy

Hands on a smartphone showing Tik Tok app interface

Hands on a smartphone showing Tik Tok app interface, the popular teen video app now known as TikTok, will pay a record $5.7 million to settle claims by the USA government that it illegally collected personal information from children.

But according to the Federal Trade Commission, the app also illegally collected information from children under the age of 13.

It's the largest civil penalty ever collected in a privacy case related to children, according to the FTC's news release.

TikTok said in a blog post Wednesday that in conjunction with the FTC agreement, it's starting a separate app for younger U.S. users with stronger safety and privacy protections.

Filed by the Department of Justice on behalf of the Commission, the FTC's complaint alleges that TikTok violated the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which requires that websites and online services directed to children obtain parental consent before collecting personal information from children under the age of 13.

In addition to receiving "thousands" of complaints from parents, the FTC referenced that TikTok users contain a short bio, in which many list their age, meaning that the app had "actual knowledge" of the kids' age.

TikTok said it has already implemented a limited, age-appropriate app experience with additional safety and privacy protections specifically designed for younger users in the U.S. and UK.

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"While we've always seen TikTok as a place for everyone, we understand the concerns that arise around younger users", the company said.

Compared with other FTC fines, the TikTok settlement nearly doubles the previous highest fine, which came in 2011 against Disney-owned Playdom. The version for younger users doesn't allow sharing of personal information and puts "extensive" limitations on content and interactions, TikTok said. According to CARU, the app violates USA children's privacy law by collecting the personal data of under age users without their parents' consent.

The TikTok app, like before it, allows users to make videos of themselves lip-syncing to millions of songs, including from children's movies, and is broadly popular among adults and children. "This is an ongoing commitment, and we are continuing to expand and evolve our protective measures in support of this".

Creating an account in the app involves adding an email address, phone number, username, first and last name, a mini-biography, and a profile picture.

"We cooperated fully with the FTC during the course of their investigation of the app in the United States, and are pleased to have reached a resolution", TikTok said in a statement.

That app experience will disable the ability for users to just about everything TikTok offers, such as "share their videos on TikTok, comment on others' videos, message with users, or maintain a profile or followers". "We take enforcement of COPPA very seriously, and we will not tolerate companies that flagrantly ignore the law".

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