The Information Commissioner’s Office of the United Kingdom announced that it has issued a fine of £12.7 million ($15.8M) to TikTok due to several violations of the country’s data protection law, such as misusing children’s data.
The ICO said in a statement on Tuesday that the ByteDance-owned company provided its services to more than one million UK children under the age of 13 in 2020, and didn’t take the necessary steps to remove their accounts from the platform, although its own policies don’t allow children at that age to use the popular short-form video app.
In addition, the company failed to get consent from parents to use their children’s personal data, which is required by the UK data protection law, the ICO 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 John Edwards, the U.K.’s Information Commissioner. “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.’’
Meanwhile, the ICO added that it was originally going to fine TikTok £27 million but reduced it to £12.7 million after considering the representations from the company.
Following the announcement, a spokesperson for TikTok said: ‘’TikTok is a platform for users aged 13 and over. We invest heavily to help keep under 13s off the platform and our 40,000 strong safety team works around the clock to help keep the platform safe for our community. While we disagree with the ICO’s decision, which relates to May 2018 – July 2020, we are pleased that the fine announced today has been reduced to under half the amount proposed last year. We will continue to review the decision and are considering next steps.’’
According to recent data from the UK’s communications regulator Ofcom, TikTok is now used by 53% of 3-17 year-olds living in the country.
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Last month, the company announced that it would limit daily screen time to 60 minutes for users under the age of 18. For kids in or under 13, their parents or guardians will be asked to enter a passcode to let them continue using the app for an additional 30 minutes.
In case you don’t know, TikTok has been recently banned in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Germany, Belgium, and by the European Commission from being used on government-issued devices, over fears that it could share citizens’ personal data with the Chinese government.
While the company has repeatedly opposed this, it has recently announced that it would open three new data centres across Europe to further safeguard the data of 150 million European users.
In addition, according to sources familiar with the matter who spoke to Bloomberg, the company is considering splitting from its Chinese owner ByteDance in order to avoid a potential nationwide ban in the United States, where the White House recently endorsed a bill that could force the app to stop operating in the country.
While the fate of TikTok, the most downloaded app worldwide in 2022, remains uncertain for now, another ByteDance-owned Instagram & Pinterest-like app named Lemon8 is rising up the App Store charts.