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Tik Tok Kids’ App Hit by Record $5.7m FTC Fine

US regulators have handed a Chinese-owned social networking app a record fine after it illegally collected the personal data of children who used it.

A Federal Trade Commission notice issued this week revealed that Music.ly, now incorporated into Tik Tok following its acquisition by China’s ByteDance, has agreed to pay $5.7m to settle the case.

The FTC alleged that the video-sharing app broke the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by failing to seek parental consent from users under the age of 13 before collecting information.

This data included email addresses, phone numbers, usernames, first and last names, short biographies, and profile pictures. The app also came under fire for allowing accounts to remain public by default, with profile pics and bios remaining viewable by all even if users went private.

They could still be messaged directly by other users, and the FTC noted that there had been reports of adults trying to contact users via the app. It added that until 2016, users were able to view all others signed up within 50 miles.

“The operators of Musical.ly — now known as TikTok — knew many children were using the app but they still failed to seek parental consent before collecting names, email addresses, and other personal information from users under the age of 13,” said FTC Chairman Joe Simons. “This record penalty should be a reminder to all online services and websites that target children: We take enforcement of COPPA very seriously, and we will not tolerate companies that flagrantly ignore the law.”

The FTC claimed that over 200 million users have downloaded the Musical.ly app worldwide, including 65 million in the US.

John Fokker, head of cyber investigations at McAfee, argued that the tech industry “needs to up its game” regarding age verification and protection of younger users.

“But the responsibility also lies with parents to ensure their children are only signing up for services they’re old enough and wise enough to use,” he added. “Despite our children becoming heavy tech users, we found that only two fifths of British parents monitor their children when using internet-connected devices.”

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