Children's groups allege TikTok broke privacy commitments

Children's groups allege TikTok broke privacy commitments
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A group of children's and consumer advocacy groups filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Thursday alleging that TikTok broke privacy commitments it had made to resolve a prior complaint. 

The short-form video-sharing platform last year agreed to settle charges that one of its predecessors, Musical.ly, violated the federal law governing privacy safeguards for children online.

Under the 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), developers of apps geared toward children cannot collect personally identifiable information on users under the age of 13 without consent from parents or legal guardians.

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The complaint, which also resulted in a $5.7 million fine, alleged the company collected without consent the names, emails and videos of users under the age of 13.

TikTok agreed as part of the settlement to obtain parental permission before collecting personal information and to delete any information about users identified as under 13.

The 20 groups said in their complaint Thursday that TikTok has failed to meet those commitments.

The complaint identifies videos posted by children under the age of 13 still on the app.

It also raises concerns over a specific service the company developed for users under 13, TikTok for Younger Users.

The complaint alleges that a child could delete that account and create an over 13 one with a fake birthday.

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"By violating the consent decree, TikTok continues to compromise the privacy of the children still present on its platform, and its behaviors continue to contravene the very goals of COPPA," wrote the groups, lead by The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and Center for Digital Democracy.

"Thus, we urge the FTC to promptly launch an investigation of TikTok’s compliance with the consent decree and COPPA Rule and to impose additional penalties and safeguards to ensure that children’s privacy is protected."

In addition to the Younger Users feature, TikTok has given parents more control over how long children spend on the app and over content they can view since the settlement.

“We take privacy seriously and are committed to helping ensure that TikTok continues to be a safe and entertaining community for our users," spokesperson for the company told The Hill in a statement Thursday.

ByteDance purchased Musical.ly in 2017 and merged it with TikTok, which it already owned.

The complaint comes as TikTok's popularity, especially among children and teens, continues to skyrocket globally.

The app has been download well over 100 million times in the U.S. and has seen increased growth as many Americans stay home during the coronavirus pandemic.

--Updated at 2:45pm