British regulators have sent a warning notice to the company, the first major case under new rules in Britain that protect minors online.
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Natasha Singer, a technology reporter at The New York Times, has covered children’s online privacy since 2012.
TikTok, the popular video-sharing app, may face a fine of £27 million, or about $29 million, for failing to protect children’s privacy in the United Kingdom.
In the first major case under new British rules protecting minors online, British regulators on Monday sent a warning notice to TikTok saying the company had handled youngsters’ information without appropriate permission from their parents, processed sensitive details without the legal grounds to do so and failed to explain the platform’s data practices in ways that children could easily understand.
While the findings are provisional, the legal document sent to TikTok by Britain’s data protection agency, the Information Commissioner’s Office, constitutes a formal notification that regulators intend to impose a fine.
It is not the first time that the video-sharing app has faced charges of failing to protect the privacy of younger users. In 2019, Musical.ly, the operators of the platform now known as TikTok, agreed to pay a fine of $5.7 million to settle federal charges that it had violated the federal children’s online privacy law in the United States.
The British announcement comes as the U.S. government is working to resolve national security concerns with TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese internet giant ByteDance.
In a statement, TikTok said it disagreed with the findings of the Information Commissioner’s Office, noting that they were provisional. “While we respect the ICO’s role in safeguarding privacy in the U.K., we disagree with the preliminary views expressed and intend to formally respond to the ICO in due course,” the statement said.
The privacy complaint against TikTok comes one year after Britain instituted sweeping new online protections for minors, called the Children’s Code.
Those rules require online services like social networks and video game platforms to design their products and features with the best interests of children in mind. The rules also require online services likely to be used by children to turn on the highest privacy settings for young users and prohibits those services from tracking children’s precise locations.
In the months before the Children’s Code took effect in Britain last year, popular social apps like YouTube, Snap, TikTok and Instagram announced they were boosting protections for children.
British regulators said the TikTok investigation was part of a much wider effort in the United Kingdom to ensure companies are complying with the new rules.
“We are currently looking into how over 50 different online services are conforming with the Children’s Code,” John Edwards, the U.K. information commissioner, said in a statement, “and have six ongoing investigations looking into companies providing digital services who haven’t, in our initial view, taken their responsibilities around child safety seriously enough.”
Two weeks ago, California enacted a sweeping new online safety law for minors inspired by the British effort. The new legislation, which is to take effect in 2024, is called the California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act.
TikTok May Face $29 Million Fine for Failing to Protect Children’s Privacy – The New York Times