China-owned video sharing platform TikTok has been hit with a fine of $15.9 million by the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), reported the BBC.
ByteDance’s widely popular social platform is having a tough time, as it’s on the verge of a nation-wide ban in the United States. It’s also faced restrictions on numerous government agency-owned devices and even on private devices all around the world.
And now it’s been accused of multiple breaches of data protection law, including failure to use children’s personal data lawfully.
TikTok’s data handling practices
In 2020, TikTok allowed approximately 1.4 million children under the age of 13 to use the app, despite its own rules requiring users to be over this age to create an account.
The ruling comes amid increased scrutiny of the app’s data handling practices and its ties to the Chinese government.
TikTok has previously faced similar fines in the United States and other countries, further underscoring the need for companies to ensure proper handling of user data to avoid regulatory action.
However, TikTok has claimed that it ‘invested heavily’ to prevent under-13s from accessing its platform.
The ICO claimed there is a possibility TikTok could have utilized children’s data to monitor and create profiles of them, which in turn could have exposed them to harmful or inappropriate content.
“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 Information Commissioner John Edwards.
Approximately one million individuals under the age of 13 were granted inappropriate access to the platform, and TikTok was found to have collected and used their personal data, explained Edwards.
TikTok’s lack of action
The ICO alleges that TikTok took no steps to obtain parental consent, which led to the company being charged.
“TikTok should have known better. TikTok should have done better. Our £12.7m fine reflects the serious impact their failures may have had,” said Edwards.
2/ The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (@ICOnews) issued a fine of £12.7M.
— @Richi 🤓 Jennings (@RiCHi) April 4, 2023
Edwards stated that exposure to inappropriate content can be harmful for individuals who are not mature enough to fully understand the implications and make appropriate choices. And that such exposure could potentially escalate to more extreme material.
“When you sign up you can be targeted for advertising, you can be profiled, your data contributes to an algorithm which feeds content,” he added.
Banned in Australia
Australia has become the last nation to ban TikTok from government-owned devices over security concerns.
The country’s government took the step after receiving advice from intelligence and security agencies, putting them in line with allies in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance.
However, TikTok’s general manager in Australia and New Zealand, Lee Hunter, expressed disappointment and believes the decision is politically motivated.
“Our millions of Australian users deserve a government which makes decisions based upon facts and who treats all businesses fairly, regardless of country of origin,” said Hunter.
The Attorney General’s Department has issued a notice stating that TikTok poses security and privacy risks to its users due to its extensive collection of user data and exposure to extrajudicial directions from a foreign government, which are contrary to Australian law.