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UK Privacy Watchdog Fines TikTok £12.7 Million for Misusing Childrens’ Data

TikTok continues to face tighter scrutiny over data security and privacy risks. In the latest move, Britain’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO)—the UK’s privacy watchdog—issued a £12.7 million fine ($15.9 million) to the video sharing app for misusing children’s data and violating other protections for young users’ personal information.

The ICO was investigating data breaches between May 2018 and July 2020, and it said TikTok allowed as many as 1.4 million children under the age of 13 in the United Kingdom to use the app in 2020, despite the platform’s rules prohibiting children that young from setting up accounts, the Associated Press reported. The watchdog also said that TikTok did not provide “proper information to people using the platform about how their data is collected, used, and shared in a way that is easy to understand.”

Without that information, the ICO said, “users of the platform, in particular children, were unlikely to be able to make informed choices about whether and how to engage with it.”

TikTok failed to collect consent from parents or carers of users under the age of 13—as UK data protection law dictates organizations using personal data must do—and it failed to carry out adequate checks to identify and remove underage children from its platform, the ICO said.

According to a statement from John Edwards, UK Information Commissioner, “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.

“As a consequence, an estimated 1 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.

“TikTok should have known better. TikTok should have done better. Our £12.7 million 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,” he concluded.

The fine comes on the heels of a number of high-profile restrictions and legal actions around TikTok. Multiple governments have set deadlines for the Chinese-owned video app to be removed from any federal devices, and the U.S. government is considering actions to ban the app.

The United Kingdom has also launched a Children’s Code (formally known as the Age appropriate design code) as a data protection code of practice for online apps, games, and websites likely to be accessed by children. The code sets out 15 standards to ensure children have a safe and positive experience with online services, the ICO said.