TikTok could be fined £27 million for failing to protect children’s privacy when they use the platform, according to the BBC.
The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) found that the video-sharing platform may have processed the data of children under 13 without proper parental consent.
The watchdog said the breach took place over more than two years – until July 2020 – but that it has yet to draw final conclusions.
TikTok disputes the findings, saying they are “preliminary”, according to the BBC.
TikTok contested the findings
The ICO has issued TikTok Inc and TikTok Information Technologies UK Limited with a “notice of intent” – a legal document that precedes a potential fine.
The notice sets out the ICO’s provisional opinion that TikTok breached UK data protection law between May 2018 and July 2020.
The ICO investigation found that the social media platform may have: processed the data of children under the age of 13 without appropriate parental consent, failed to provide adequate information to its users in a concise, transparent and understandable way, that processed data from special categories without having a legal basis to do so.
How many kids use TikTok?
According to Ofcom, 44% of eight- to 12-year-olds in the UK use TikTok, despite policies banning under-13s from accessing the platform.
Information Commissioner John Edwards said: “We all want children to be able to learn and experience the digital world, but with adequate data privacy protection. Companies that provide digital services have a legal obligation to put these protections in place, but our provisional view is that TikTok has failed to meet this requirement.”
TikTok has implemented a number of features to strengthen privacy and safety on the site — including allowing parents to link their accounts with their children’s and turning off direct messaging for under-16s.
Children’s Code, launched last September
But Mr Edwards continued: “We have been clear that our work to better protect children online involves working with organisations, but will also involve enforcement action if necessary. In addition, we are currently reviewing how more than 50 different online services comply with the Children’s Code and have six ongoing investigations into companies providing digital services that we initially felt did not take sufficient seriously the responsibilities regarding the safety of children”.
Launched last September, the Children’s Code introduced new data protection codes of practice for online services that can be accessed by children, based on existing data protection laws, with the possibility of financial penalties serious violations.
“We will carefully consider any comments from TikTok”
The ICO has stated that its findings in the notice are provisional and that no conclusion can be drawn at this stage regarding a breach of data protection legislation.
It added: “We will carefully consider any comments from TikTok before making a final decision.”
A TikTok spokesperson said: “This notice of intent, which covers the period May 2018 to July 2020, is provisional and, as the ICO itself has stated, no final conclusions can be drawn at this time. While we respect the ICO’s role in protecting privacy in the UK, we disagree with the preliminary views expressed and intend to respond formally to the ICO in due course.”
A record $5.7 million fine
In 2019, the firm was fined a record $5.7 million by the Federal Trade Commission for mishandling children’s data.
She was also fined in South Korea for similar reasons.
In July, the US Senate Commerce Committee voted to approve a measure that would raise to 16 the age at which children receive special online privacy protections and ban advertising aimed at children without consent.