TikTok hit with $15.8m fine in the UK for ‘misusing children’s data’

The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) imposed a £12.7 million (approx. $15.8 million) fine on TikTok for a number of data protection breaches including ‘misusing children’s data’.

The country’s data watchdog estimated that between May 2018 and July 2020, TiKTok allowed up to 1.4 million children in the UK under the age of 13 access to the app without consent or authorization from their parents or carers, breaching its terms of service.

Under TikTok’s terms, children under 13 are not allowed to create an account on the platform, and under the UK’s data protection law, organization that use personal data when offering information services to underaged children should have consent from parents or guardians.

“TikTok failed to do that, even though it ought to have been aware that under 13s were using its platform. TikTok also failed to carry out adequate checks to identify and remove underage children from its platform,” ICO said in a statement on Tuesday (April 4).

The watchdog stressed that TikTok failed to provide proper information to users about how its data is collected, used and shared in a way that is easy to understand.

Without that information, children were unlikely to be able to make informed choices about how to engage with the platform, said the regulator.

The ICO’s probe into TikTok found that a concern was raised internally with some senior employees about under 13 users using the platform and not being removed.

TikTok did not respond “adequately” to the ICO’s investigation, the regulator said.

“There are laws in place to make sure our children are as safe in the digital world as they are in the physical world. TikTok did not abide by those laws,” said UK Information Commissioner John Edwards.

“As a consequence, an estimated one million under 13s were inappropriately granted access to the platform, with TikTok collecting and using their personal data. That means that their data may have been used to track them and profile them, potentially delivering harmful, inappropriate content at their very next scroll.”

The fine imposed by the ICO was downgraded from the initial £27 million fine that it had planned to hand down when it commenced its investigation in September 2022.

“TikTok should have known better. TikTok should have done better. Our £12.7m fine reflects the serious impact their failures may have had. They did not do enough to check who was using their platform or take sufficient action to remove the underage children that were using their platform,” Edwards added.

The development marks the latest setback for TikTok in the UK after the app was banned for use on government devices less than a month ago as part of a wider app review.

Elsewhere, TikTok has also been banned on government devices in the US, France, Canada, the European Union, New Zealand and most recently, Australia.

In the US, TikTok has already spent $13.4 million on government lobbying since 2019. In 2022, it spent a record $5.3 million on lobbying to keep its app operating in the US, according to figures from Washington DC-based nonprofit organization OpenSecrets.

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