Advocacy groups are accusing social video app TikTok of continuing to collect personal information from children younger than 13, in violation of federal privacy law and of a recent consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission.
“TikTok’s conduct shows that it is continuing to pursue growth at the expense of endangering children,” the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Center for Digital Democracy and other organizations say in a new FTC complaint. “Strong FTC action is needed to protect children from substantial risks to their privacy and well-being that come from sharing some of the most personal forms of personal information -- their images, their words, and their thoughts -- to TikTok’s 800 million users worldwide, without their parents’ knowledge and informed consent.”
The organization is urging the FTC to investigate TikTok, its parent company, ByteDance, and the corporate officers.
The request comes 14 months after TikTok agreed to pay $5.7 million to settle an FTC complaint alleging the company violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. That law prohibits website operators from knowingly collecting personal information form children under 13, without parental consent.
TikTok also agreed to delete all videos created by children 12 and younger. The FTC said at the time that a “significant percentage” of TikTok users were under 13.
The FTC brought a case against TikTok around one year after the company was referred to the agency by the self-regulatory group Children's Advertising Review Unit of the BBB National Programs.
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and other groups say that TikTok has violated the consent decree in several ways.
Among others, TikTok “failed to delete personal information previously collected from children and is still collecting kids’ personal information without notice to and consent of parents,” the groups state.
They allege in the FTC complaint that TikTok “currently has many regular account holders who are under age 13.”
Many of those users “still have videos of themselves that were uploaded as far back as 2016, years prior to the consent decree,” the groups allege.
The organizations add that even though TikTok has an age-screen that directs users under 13 to its “younger user accounts,” the company gives children an incentive to lie about their age.
“Children can easily defeat the age gate simply by registering again using a different age,” they write.
When children do so, and create standard accounts, “TikTok collects vast amounts of personal information including videos, usage history, the content of messages sent on the platform, and geolocation” and then “shares this information with third parties and uses it for targeted advertising,” the groups allege.
“TikTok continues to compromise the privacy of the children still present on its platform, and its behaviors continue to contravene the very goals of COPPA,” the watchdogs write. “Children using TikTok accounts are denied COPPA’s protections, and their parents are denied any opportunity to protect the privacy of their children, or even the opportunity to have a say in such protection.”