TikTok Breaches Federal Trade Commission Rules and Fined $ 5.7 Million


As the latest network to host viral memes, comic skits, timed music videos, and insane challenges, TikTok has quickly become one of the most popular social media applications.

TikTok, which allows users to download 15-second video clips under sound bites, songs and effects, has already exceeded the number of Snapchat and Twitter users. With its billion downloads recently, he is more interested in the Apple App Store than its competitors like Facebook and Instagram. Rebecca Jennings, Vox 's journalist for Internet Culture (and fan of TikTok), said in December: "thanks to its algorithm that makes the frenzy irresistible, as well as a sophisticated lineup of. sound and visual effects, TikTok offers even more possibilities to creators. "

But like many social media applications, TikTok raises many concerns about online privacy, especially with regards to child safety. It has been called a "hunting ground" for predators of children, who are able to communicate with children through TikTok's internal messaging system.

TikTok's problems do not end with its users; the application itself raises privacy issues. On Wednesday, February 27th, ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, agreed to pay the Federal Trade Commission a $ 5.7 million settlement, in response to allegations that TikTok illegally collected confidential information about children using TikTok. # 39; s application. (TikTok would not comment to Vox for recording this story.)

Even though TikTok says that it does not allow children under 13 to use the app, many are still using it. This violates the 1998 Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which aims to protect children under the age of 13 from harm on the Internet by banning businesses from collecting their information without parental permission.

The payment of TikTok is the largest civil sanction ever imposed by the FTC for the protection of children's privacy, and this agreement is likely to have important consequences for other companies accused of being lax in protecting the privacy of children. privacy and safety of children.

The rise of TikTok – and its dangers for children

TikTok called Musical.ly, a Chinese app launched in 2014. The Beijing-based ByteDance technology company bought Musical.ly in November 2017 for $ 1 billion. Last August, she combined the two video applications into one. , migrating all Musical.ly accounts to TikTok. For several months in 2018, he surpassed Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube in monthly downloads. Today, it has 500 million users around the world.

Many of these users are children, especially those who have accounts with Musical.ly. Social networks generally require children under the age of 13 not to use their services, but the FTC has accused TikTok of knowingly accepting young children on its application. By allowing children on the app, TikTok had access to their first and last names, phone numbers, email addresses, biographies and profile pictures, which is a mine of information for users who do not may not understand the nuances of privacy.

"The Musical.ly operators – now known as TikTok – knew that many children were using the app, but they still did not ask for their parents' consent before collecting names, e-mail addresses and other personal information of users under the age of 13, "FTC President Joe Simons wrote in a statement. "This record penalty should remind all online services and websites that target children: we take the application of COPPA very seriously and we will not tolerate companies that blatantly ignore the law."

But the collection of data on children is really the tip of the iceberg regarding the potential dangers of TikTok. Over the past weekend, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the UK's largest charity, has published a detailed study on TikTok, which surveyed 40,000 students on the subject. application. It was found that 25% of children had ties to a stranger on TikTok and that one in 20 strangers had been invited by these strangers on TikTok to undress during live matches.

TikTok has also been a major concern for international schools. In England, schools warn parents not to let their children use the app for fear of being contacted by strangers with unknown agendas. Indian lawmakers are also trying to ban TikTok from leaving the country for alleged promotion of racist content and hate speech.

It should be noted that, as long as it exists, the Internet always presents dangers for children, which go back to the time of the AOL chat room. But TikTok presents new concerns, especially because it is an easily accessible smartphone that can be used in private.

As the FTC points out, instead of privileging privacy, TikTok accounts are automatically set to public. This default mode means that strangers have access to children's profiles and can easily send them messages. Until October 2016, TikTok also allowed users to find TikTok-ers colleagues within a 50-mile radius.

In a statement about his agreement with the FTC, TikTok wrote: "Although we have always seen TikTok as a place for all, we understand the concerns that arise around young users." On February 27, he published a new application especially for young children On this version, young users will not be able to share videos, comment on content or exchange messages with other users, TikTok says its new child safety measures represent ongoing commitment ".

TikTok joins several social media giants accused of inappropriate behavior towards children. Last month, TechCrunch exposed a Facebook research project in which teenagers were paid $ 20 a month in exchange for access to all items on their phones. Facebook is also accused of promoting "friendly fraud", allowing children to shop without the consent of their parents. Just last week, more than a dozen consumer groups asked the FTC to investigate Facebook's misleading practices.

YouTube is also under fire for failing to act quickly enough to stop pedophiles on the network. For years, users have left sexually suggestive comments on videos of young children playing games or exercising. After a lot of big companies start pulling on their YouTube ads, the video-sharing giant is now trying to ban these users and close some sections of comments.

These technology companies have huge amounts of data, users and energy. But many advocates note that they have not taken the responsibility to protect their platforms, often preferring to focus on profits and expansion. TikTok may be interested in the FTC for the moment, but there is no risk of saying that there is probably more left on the platform – or on applications like this – which has not not yet surfaced.

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