Wednesday February 27, 2019

TikTok Settles with FTC for $5.7 Million After Violating Child Protection Laws

TikTok, formerly Musical.ly, has agreed to pay a record $5.7 million fine to settle FTC allegations that it violated the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The company's app illegally collected personal information from children by failing to seek parental consent before allowing users to register with the service. Registration required users to provide their email address, phone number, username, first and last name, a short biography, and a profile picture. The company was well aware that many children were using the Musical.ly app. This is the largest civil penalty ever obtained by the Commission in a children's privacy case.

The app allowed users to create and share videos lip-syncing to music. Users viewed, commented, and direct messaged other users about their videos. User accounts were public by default, which meant that a child's profile bio, username, picture, and videos could be seen by other users. Even if users set their account to private, users' profile pictures and bios remained public, and users could still send them direct messages. Not only did adults attempt to contact children, the app included a feature that allowed users to view other users within a 50-mile radius of their location. Thousands of parents complained to the company that their children under the age of 13 made accounts, but the company failed to delete content; even when parents requested that it be removed. Commissioner Rohit Chopra and Commissioner Rebecca Kelly Slaughter issued a separate statement.

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"The operators of Musical.ly--now known as TikTok--knew many children were using the app but they still failed to seek parental consent before collecting names, email addresses, and other personal information from users under the age of 13," said FTC Chairman Joe Simons. "This record penalty should be a reminder to all online services and websites that target children: We take enforcement of COPPA very seriously, and we will not tolerate companies that flagrantly ignore the law." In addition to the monetary payment, the settlement also requires the app's operators to comply with COPPA going forward and to take offline all videos made by children under the age of 13.

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