TikTok Hit with €345 Million Fine for Failing to Protect Children's Privacy
TikTok, the popular short-form video app, has been slapped with a hefty €345 million ($368 million) fine by a major European tech regulator. The Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC), responsible for overseeing TikTok's operations in the European Union, issued the fine, citing the company's failure to adequately safeguard children's privacy.
The DPC's investigation revealed that during the latter half of 2020, TikTok's default settings did not provide sufficient protection for children's accounts. For instance, newly created children's profiles were set to public by default, making them accessible to anyone on the internet. Additionally, TikTok did not effectively communicate these privacy risks to young users and utilized "dark patterns" to encourage users to share more personal information.
Another breach of EU privacy law centered around TikTok's "Family Pairing" feature,
designed as a parental control tool. The DPC found that this feature did not require adults overseeing a child's account to be verified as the child's actual parent or guardian. This oversight potentially allowed any adult to weaken the privacy safeguards for a child's account.
TikTok introduced the Family Pairing feature in April 2020, allowing adults to link their accounts with those of children to manage screen time, restrict certain content, and limit direct messaging for kids. The DPC's ruling gives TikTok a three-month window to rectify these violations and includes a formal reprimand.
In response to the fine and findings, TikTok expressed its disagreement with certain aspects of the ruling. TikTok's European privacy chief, Elaine Fox, noted in a blog post that many of the criticisms in the decision no longer apply due to measures implemented by the company at the beginning of 2021.
Among these changes, TikTok made existing and new accounts private by default for users aged 13 to 15. Fox also mentioned that later in the month, the company would introduce a redesigned account registration process for new users aged 16 and 17, which would default to private settings.
While TikTok has pledged to address the issues raised by the DPC, this significant fine and regulatory scrutiny underscore the growing concerns about protecting children's privacy in the digital age. The case serves as a reminder of the importance of robust privacy safeguards and transparency, especially for platforms catering to young users.