TikTok, the popular video-sharing app, has recently been financially penalized after it misused children’s data in Britain. The Information Commissioner’s Office levied a $15.9 million fine against the platform, citing that it had not adhered to data protection laws that were aiming to protect minors online. Investigations revealed that up to 1.4 million children under the age of 13 were wrongly permitted access to the app in 2020. TikTok was cited for its negligence in not obtaining parental consent, despite having their own policy banning users of this age range from creating accounts.
TikTok, operated by the Chinese internet corporation ByteDance, has been under public scrutiny in the United States. Troubling behavior from the platform extends even further than just data protection laws. Researchers found that just minutes after joining the platform, young users were already being served content relating to eating disorders and self-harm. Those findings only added to the worry that social media posed mental health and safety risks to minors.
John Edwards, the UK Information commissioner, put it bluntly when summarizing his office’s findings: “TikTok’s failure to gain parental consent put vulnerable children at risk.” To this, TikTok responded that it disagrees with the UK regulators’ conclusions and is currently examining the case, noting that “it invests heavily to keep those under 13 off the platform and has 40,000 safety team members monitoring the site.”
But the U.K. and United States are not the only countries taking measures against the irresponsible use of children’s data. Over the past year, there have been attempts to further protect minors online, with legislatures in Utah and California setting forth laws to make apps like TikTok comply with these new regulations.
Ultimately, the TikTok fine highlights the need to be aware of the potential risks and issues surrounding the use of data, especially when minors are involved. Companies like TikTok must take note of the message sent by the hefty fine and show a commitment to safeguarding the data of vulnerable individuals, like children.