The Federal Trade Commission fined the popular social media and video sharing service TikTok a record $5.7 million for illegally collecting the personal data of children under 13.
TikTok, known until recently as Musical.ly, allowed users to upload brief videos of themselves lip-syncing popular songs and boasted at least 65 million users in the United States, a “significant percentage,” according to the FTC complaint, below the age of 13. Registration for the service required the users’ names, email addresses, a profile picture, a short bio and were public by default, all of which constitutes a violation of the U.S. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA.
Under COPPA, it is illegal for online companies to collect data and use the personal information of children under the age of 13 without explicit parental consent. Companies are also required to delete any personal information at the request of parents.
“The App does not provide a function for users to close their accounts, and instead requires users to send an email…to close their accounts. [Musical.ly] received thousands of complaints from parents that their child under 13 years old had created a Musical.ly App account without their knowledge… in the two week period between September 15, 2016 and September 30, 2016, [Musical.ly] received more than 300 complaints from parents asking to have their child’s account closed. While [Musical.ly] closed the accounts, they did not delete the users’ videos or profile information from [Musical.ly]’ servers,” stated the complaint.
TikTok agreed to a $5.7 million settlement and to remove from the platform all videos made by children under 13. They also agreed to comply with COPPA. The company has yet to provide a timeline for the removal, but it did promise to create an “experience” for users under the age of 13 in the United States.
While the size of the fine may be record-setting, it remains to be seen what impact, if any, it will have on TikTok, or its Beijing-owned parent company, ByteDance, which is valued at $75 billion.