TikTok Broke Privacy Promises, Children’s Groups Say

TikTok, the popular app for making and sharing short videos, has flouted an agreement it made with the Federal Trade Commission to protect the privacy of children on the service, a coalition of 20 children’s and consumer groups said on Thursday.

As part of the settlement, the video-sharing app agreed to obtain a parent’s permission before collecting their child’s personal information. It also agreed to delete personal information, including videos, of any children identified as younger than 13 and to remove videos and other personal details of users whose ages were unknown.

The groups also identified problems with age verification for younger users. Last year, the app set up a service for children under 13, TikTok for Younger Users, which prevents them from posting videos and does not collect their personal data. But the complaint said a child who initially registered for a TikTok account for younger users could instantly delete it and sign up for an over-13 account on the same mobile device simply by using a fake birth date.

(A reporter who tested this on Tuesday was able to set up an account for a user older than 13 after deleting a children’s account she had registered.)

“For years, TikTok has ignored” the children’s privacy law, “thereby ensnaring perhaps millions of underage children in its marketing apparatus, and putting children at risk of sexual predation,” said Josh Golin, the executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood. “Now, even after being caught red-handed by the F.T.C., TikTok continues to flout the law.”

In an emailed statement, a TikTok spokesperson said: “We take privacy seriously and are committed to helping ensure that TikTok continues to be a safe and entertaining community for our users.”

TikTok’s popularity is soaring among Americans sheltering at home during the pandemic. The app was downloaded about 11 million times by new users in the United States in March, nearly twice the total in December, according to Sensor Tower, a company that tracks app usage data.

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