TikTok has been hit with a €345 million fine.
Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) levied the fine after a 2020 investigation allegedly found that TikTok was not doing enough to protect underage users.
Issues cited by investigators included TikTok’s app signup process, which automatically made teenage users’ accounts public, “meaning anyone (on or off TikTok) could view the content posted by the child user,” regulators said. TikTok changed that process in 2021, and now sets accounts private by default for users between the ages of 13 and 15.
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Regulators also said TikTok’s family pairing feature, which is supposed to give a parent or guardian monitoring access to their teen’s account and allow them to change settings like turning DMs on and off, did not verify whether the adult user was actually related to the underage user, “thereby making this feature less strict for the child user.”
TikTok reportedly also used what’s called “dark patterns,” where websites and apps nudge users to select specific options that may not be the best for them. In TikTok’s case, users were urged to pick more privacy-intrusive options when it came to their personal data, The New York Times reports.
Per Variety, the DPC’s investigation ultimately concluded that TikTok’s age verification system does not violate Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR); however, the DPC believes TikTok has not done enough to protect young users.
The €345 million fine is roughly $367 million U.S. It comes with an order that TikTok must “bring its processing into compliance” with the GDPR within three months.
In a statement, TikTok said, “We respectfully disagree with the decision, particularly the level of the fine imposed. The DPC’s criticisms are focused on features and settings that were in place three years ago, and that we made changes to well before the investigation even began, such as setting all under 16 accounts to private by default.”
Elaine Fox, TikTok’s head of privacy for Europe, added that the platform will “evaluate next steps” in response to the fine and the order.
This is not the first time TikTok has been fined for privacy-related issues. This past April, the U.K.’s data protection watchdog fined it $15.9 million for failing to remove underage users from its platform. And, in 2019, its parent company ByteDance paid $5.7 million to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that musical.ly (which was merged with TikTok) violated U.S. data protection rules for kids.