Feds investigating allegations TikTok failed to protect children’s privacy: report

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Justice are reportedly investigating whether TikTok, a Chinese social media app popular among teens, failed to comply with a 2019 agreement designed to protect children’s privacy.

Reuters reported on the federal probe Tuesday, citing two people interviewed in the investigation. The revelation comes as the short-form video platform also faces rising scrutiny from members of Congress and the Trump administration.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that the U.S. was exploring a ban of TikTok and other apps associated with China, citing concerns the apps have shared user data with the government in Beijing.

A staffer in a Massachusetts tech policy group and another person told Reuters that the FTC and Justice Department conducted separate phone calls with them. The focus of the discussions was whether TikTok failed to comply with an agreement reached with the FTC in February 2019 regarding privacy for children 13 and younger.

The Center for Digital Democracy, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and other groups reportedly asked the FTC in May to look into allegations that TikTok was not living up to the agreement, which required it to delete videos and personal information about children using the app. 

“TikTok takes the issue of safety seriously for all our users, and we continue to further strengthen our safeguards and introduce new measures to protect young people on the app,” a company spokesperson told The Hill when asked for comment about the investigation.

“In the US, we accommodate users under 13 in a limited app experience that introduces additional safety and privacy protections designed specifically for a younger audience,” the spokesman added.

The FTC declined to comment, and the Justice Department did not immediately return a request for comment from The Hill.

TikTok has been the source of intense scrutiny from both Republicans and Democrats in Washington. In comments made on Fox News on Monday, Pompeo suggested that individuals using the app risked putting “private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”

His comments came the same day that India banned TikTok, as well as 58 other Chinese apps, following a border skirmish between the two nations. TikTok also said earlier this week that it would pull its service from Hong Kong due to a new national security law that critics argue will strip the region of its autonomy. 

“We have no higher priority than promoting a safe and secure app experience for our users. We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked,” a TikTok representative told The Hill following Pompeo’s remarks. 

Updated on July 8 at 9:34 a.m.

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