The U.K.’s data protection watchdog is fining TikTok £12.7 million (about $15.9 million U.S.) for “[failing] to carry out adequate checks to identify and remove underage children from its platform.”
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) estimates that more than one million children under 13 accessed TikTok in the U.K. in 2020. TikTok’s terms of service explicitly forbid anyone under 13 from signing up for an account, but we all know how easy it is for a kid to check a box that says “Yes, I am 13 years old.”
The ICO alleges “senior employees” at TikTok were told the platform had a problem with underage users, but “TikTok did not respond adequately” to that information, it says.
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“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,” John Edwards, the U.K. Information Commissioner, said in a statement. “As a consequence, an estimated one million under 13s were inappropriately granted access to the platform, with TikTok collecting and using their personal data. That means that their data may have been used to track them and profile them, potentially delivering harmful, inappropriate content at their very next scroll.”
Edwards added, “TikTok should have known better. TikTok should have done better. Our £12.7m fine reflects the serious impact their failures may have had. They did not do enough to check who was using their platform or take sufficient action to remove the underage children that were using their platform.”
In a statement, TikTok said it “is a platform for users aged 13 and over.”
“We invest heavily to help keep under 13s off the platform, and our 40,000-strong safety team works around the clock to help keep the platform safe for our community.”
Per The New York Times, TikTok is currently reviewing the case and considering next steps—so it’s possible the company will try to fight the ICO’s fine.
This is not the first time TikTok and its parent company ByteDance have been fined for children’s data privacy violations. Back in 2019, ByteDance paid $5.7 million after the Federal Trade Commission ruled that musical.ly (which ByteDance acquired and merged with TikTok) crossed COPPA.