TikTok pays record $5.7M fine for collecting data from children

Video-based social platform TikTok agreed to pay a record fine to settle claims that it illegally collected data from children, the Federal Trade Commission announced on Thursday.

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The FTC said the $5.7 million penalty was the largest ever settlement for a children’s privacy issue. TikTok, formerly known as Musical.ly, was accused of knowingly tracking data from underage users without obtaining parental consent, as required by law.

“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.”

Aside from the financial penalty, TikTok’s operators agreed to abide by federal children’s privacy laws in the future. The app will also remove all videos posted by users under the age of 13.

TikTok is owned by a Chinese tech firm called ByteDance. The app allows users to upload videos lip-syncing over popular music. More than 200 million worldwide users have downloaded the app since 2014, according to the FTC.

TikTok said it will henceforth create a “separate app experience” for younger users.

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"Beginning today, this additional app experience now allows us to split users into age-appropriate TikTok environments, in line with FTC guidance for mixed audience apps," the company said in a press release. "The new environment for younger users does not permit the sharing of personal information, and it puts extensive limitations on content and user interaction."