Britain hits TikTok with a big fine over children’s privacy breaches

By our News Team | 2023

Social media platform did not abide by laws designed to keep children safe in the digital world, consumer watchdog says.

Social media platform TikTok has been fined around US$16-million by Britain’s data watchdog for illegally processing the data of 1.4-million children under 13 who were using its platform without parental consent.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said the app had done “very little, if anything” to check who was using the platform and remove those who were underage users.

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“Our findings were that TikTok [was] not doing enough to prevent under-13s accessing their platform, they were not doing enough when they became aware of under-13s to get rid of them, and they were not doing enough to detect under-13s on there,” John Edwards, the Information Commissioner, told The Guardian newspaper.

Edwards added: “They assure us that they are now doing more.”

While the UK does not ban children using social media networks, it does require these platforms to obtain parental consent and not to use the data of children under 13.

Cbildren must be safe in the digital world

“There are laws in place to make sure our children are as safe in the digital world as they are in the physical world. TikTok did not abide by those laws,” Edwards said.

“As a consequence, an estimated 1-million under-13s were inappropriately granted access to the platform, with TikTok collecting and using their personal data. That means that their data may have been used to track them and profile them, potentially delivering harmful, inappropriate content at their very next scroll.”

In 2019, TikTok was fined in the United States for similar practices, while in 2020 it was fined in South Korea for mishandling children’s data.

Meanwhile, Australia has become the latest country to ban TikTok from being installed and used on any government-issued electronic devices. 

The reason given is that the Chinese government could use the devices for spying purposes. While TikTok is a private Chinese-owned company, the country’s laws require such companies to assist the nation’s intelligence services on request.

Countries that have already implemented a similar ban include the United States, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand. The US is currently considering a total ban on TikTok usage within the country. There is also concern within the EU.