TikTok has been ordered to pay a fine of $15.6M (£12.7M) for failing to protect 1.4 million UK children under the age of 13 from accessing its platform in 2020. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the UK’s data protection watchdog, imposed the fine after finding the company used children’s data without parental consent.
According to the ICO, the company may have used the data for tracking and profiling purposes. It may have also presented children with content deemed potentially harmful or inappropriate.
“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,” said John Edwards, information commissioner for the ICO.
“TikTok should have known better. TikTok should have done better.”
Edwards told BBC News that TikTok had “taken no steps” to get parents’ consent.
“If you’ve been looking at content which is not appropriate for your age, that can get more and more extreme. It can be quite harmful for people who are not old enough to fully appreciate the implications and to make appropriate choices.”
In an interview with the BBC, Prof Sonia Livingstone, a researcher who studies children’s digital rights and experiences at the London School of Economics and Political Science, said she was happy the ICO had taken action against TikTok but fears the fine could be “shrugged off as the cost of doing business,” implying that nothing much might change with how TikTok operates.
“Let’s hope TikTok reviews its practices thoroughly and make sure that it respects children’s privacy and safety proactively in the future,” she said.
A TikTok spokesperson said the company invests “heavily to help keep under 13s off the platform and our 40,000-strong safety team works around the clock to help keep the platform safe for our community.”
“We will continue to review the decision and are considering next steps,” the spokesperson added.
The ICO gave TikTok 28 days to appeal the fine.
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