Advocacy groups are urging potential purchasers of TikTok to revamp the social video app's practices regarding children's privacy.
“TikTok continues to look the other way when it comes to children’s privacy,” the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and Center for Digital Democracy say in a letter sent Thursday to the CEOs of Microsoft, Oracle and Walmart. “Although it has documented, actual knowledge that millions of its users are children, TikTok never notifies parents or obtains their consent regarding any children’s accounts.”
All three companies have expressed interest in purchasing TikTok. (Microsoft and Walmart may partner to do so, while Oracle is reportedly considering purchasing the company without a partner.)
The advocacy groups ask the potential purchasers to immediately stop processing data from any users TikTok had flagged as under 13, and to delete those accounts -- unless there's proof that the users are 13 or older.
Last year, TikTok agreed to pay $5.7 million to settle a Federal Trade Commission 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 last year 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.
But this May, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Center for Digital Democracy and other organizations alleged in an FTC complaint that TikTok continues to collect personal information from children younger than 13, and that it failed to delete the data previously collected.
The Commercial-Free Childhood and Center for Digital Democracy now contend that TikTok makes it easy for children to avoid the company's attempts at age-gating. The groups say that children who attempt to register with their actual birthdates are enrolled in a “younger users” account that doesn't allow them to share videos. But those same children can then immediately register again, from the same device, with fake birthdates, according to the organizations.
“TikTok makes no attempt to notify parents or obtain their consent,” the watchdogs write.
“These privacy violations can have serious consequences for children,” the groups add.
Among other consequences, the organizations say that young children will be “exposed to the manipulative data-driven marketing” the federal children's privacy law aims to prevent.