Phone TikTok app

TikTok Continues to Store and Collect Children’s Personal Information

Last edited: May 14, 2020
Reading time: 3 minutes, 8 seconds

A group of privacy advocacy organizations have filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). They are alleging that TikTok violated a consent decree and children’s privacy law, Reuters reported. TikTok is a popular app amongst children, and the platform is tasked with keeping their privacy safe. Last month TikTok announced that they are going to launch parental controls and disable direct messaging for users under the age of sixteen.

The Complaint

The organizations that filed the complaint claimed that TikTok has not taken down all videos posted by children under the age of thirteen. The company agreed to do so in a consent agreement with the FTC in February of last year. Back then the company was called Musical.ly. They also had to pay a fine of $5.7 million.

The company was aware that many young children were using the app, and they were collecting their personal information without parental consent. Data such as name, email address, pictures and locations are shared with third parties that use it for advertising. Despite the original agreement, the company is still collecting this data. Parents requests to have their children’s data removed were ignored. So now another complaint has been filed.

Children on TikTok

TikTok has created special accounts for children under the age of twelve. These accounts have less functionality, so parents might think that it’s safe for children to use these. They collect less data and stop children from sharing their videos with others. But these accounts do not meet the requirements of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. The accounts still collect some data, such as some personal identifiers and user activity data, which is not legal.

According to child privacy law in the Us, children under the age of thirteen need parental permission before their data can be collected. That is obviously not happening here. It is also very easy for children to lie about their age when they create an account, so that they can use an account with all functionalities.

Parental Controls

Last month TikTok announced that they will be introducing a new set of parental controls. The features are referred to as Family Pairing. It will allow parents to control their children’s screen time management, restricted mode, and direct messages. The app will now also disable direct messages for every user under the age of sixteen. These features were already launched in the UK earlier this year. A parent does need to set up their own account so that it can be linked to their child’s account.

It is not really clear yet what the restricted mode actually entails. It probably means that any content that is flagged as inappropriate by other users cannot be seen in the restricted mode. But that doesn’t mean that a child won’t see any inappropriate content at all, since not al of it will be flagged.

All of the controls that are available in Family Pairing are existing controls. They are available for every account. Family Pairing just makes a child’s settings available to their parents.

Addicted to TikTok

Nowadays, people often feel strange leaving their house without their phone. It has become part of our lives. And it has become that for teens as well. Especially now that many schools are closed, it is a way for children to interact with each other. Many children are spending a lot of time on the platform. This has become apparent to TikTok as well.

That is why they have decided to launch a public service announcement in the app. It tries to make people aware of the amount of time they spend on the platform, and encourages them to take a break from their phones every now and then.

Cybersecurity analyst
David is a cyber security analyst and one of the founders of VPNoverview.com. Interested in the "digital identity" phenomenon, with special attention to the right to privacy and protection of personal data.

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