May 14, 2020 / 5:18 AM / 15 days ago

Advocacy group says TikTok violated FTC consent decree and children's privacy rules

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A group of privacy advocacy organizations is filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission on Thursday alleging that the popular app TikTok violated a consent decree and a law protecting children’s privacy online.

FILE PHOTO: The TikTok logo is seen on a screen over Times Square in New York City, U.S., March 6, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

The Center for Digital Democracy, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and others said TikTok had failed to take down all videos made by children under the age of 13, as it agreed to do under a consent agreement with the FTC announced in February 2019.

TikTok spokeswoman Hilary McQuaide said in response to the new complaint that “we take privacy seriously and are committed to helping ensure that TikTok continues to be a safe and entertaining community for our users.”

As part of the consent agreement, the FTC had said that TikTok, then known as Musical.ly, had known that young children used the app and had failed to get parental consent to collect their names, email addresses and other personal information. It paid a fine of $5.7 million.

But, the privacy advocates said, TikTok failed to delete personal information about users age 12 and younger as it had promised as part of the consent agreement.

“We found that TikTok currently has many regular account holders who are under age 13, and many of them still have videos of themselves that were uploaded as far back as 2016, years prior to the consent decree,” they said in their complaint.

TikTok’s decision to create accounts for children age 12 and under that have less functionality failed to meet requirements of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act because the company still collects information, which it shares with third parties that want it for advertising. Also, children can easily avoid using the kids’ version of the app by being dishonest about their age, the groups said.

In addition, TikTok fails to post on its homepage an easy-to-find link to its privacy policy, the groups said.

“TikTok continues to be one of the most popular apps in the world, and it is widely used by children and teens in the United States, so it is especially important that the FTC promptly and thoroughly investigate TikTok’s practices and take effective enforcement action,” the groups said in their complaint.

Other groups signing on to the complaint include Berkeley Media Studies Group, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Reports and Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Reporting by Diane Bartz; Additional reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Leslie Adler and Gerry Doyle

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