TikTok has been fined a record $5.7 million by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over the illegal collection of data from children, the FTC said on Wednesday (Feb. 27).
The fine applies to the company’s social networking app Musical.ly.
“This is the largest civil penalty ever obtained by the Commission in a children’s privacy case,” the FTC said.
The app allegedly violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which requires that companies get parental permission before collecting data from children under the age of 13.
“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.”
Since 2014, 200 million users downloaded the app, with 65 million accounts in the United States alone. The app lets users make short lip-synching videos and share them with other users. Registration requires an email address, first and last name, a biography and a picture, among other pieces of personal info.
“User accounts were public by default, which meant that a child’s profile bio, username, picture and videos could be seen by other users,” the FTC said. “In fact, as the complaint notes, there have been public reports of adults trying to contact children via the Musical.ly app. In addition, until October 2016, the app included a feature that allowed users to view other users within a 50-mile radius of their location.”
The FTC said the app received thousands of complaints from parents that their children had signed up for the app.
“In addition to the monetary payment, the settlement also requires the app’s operators to comply with COPPA going forward and to take offline all videos made by children under the age of 13,” the FTC said.