UK Government Fines TikTok Nearly $16 Million ‘For Misusing Children’s Data,’ Says the Platform ‘Should Have Done Better’

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A nighttime shot of London, England. Photo Credit: Viktor Forgacs

As it grapples with continued government scrutiny – including a possible stateside ban – ByteDance’s TikTok has officially been slapped with a nearly $16 million fine in the UK “for misusing children’s data” between May of 2018 and July of 2020.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which bills itself as “the UK’s independent body set up to uphold information rights,” just recently announced the multimillion-dollar fine against TikTok. Of course, it’s long been known that the highly controversial video-sharing app has a generally young userbase.

Moreover, the service has faced (and is facing) numerous lawsuits – filed by states including Indiana and Arkansas, on behalf of under-18 users, and other parties yet – centering on the content that minors are exposed to on-platform as well as the ways in which their data is exploited.

The European Union has also expressed child-safety concerns about TikTok, which at 2023’s beginning started allowing creators to make videos accessible only to adult viewers. Meanwhile, at least 15 state attorneys general have taken aim at the app’s age ratings on the Play Store and the App Store, and the Federal Trade Commission way back in 2019 fined TikTok $5.7 million for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

Bearing in mind the points and the aforesaid heightened scrutiny of TikTok, the ICO has fined the service £12.7 million ($15.82 million at the present exchange rate) specifically “for a number of breaches of data protection law, including failing to use children’s personal data lawfully.”

As part of the latter, the government entity estimated (following a years-long investigation) that the app had “allowed up to 1.4 million UK children under 13 to use its platform in 2020, despite its own rules not allowing children that age to create an account.”

Moreover, the SoundOn operator violated UK data protection laws by failing to receive parental permission to utilize the extremely young TikTokers’ personal information, according to the ICO, which further maintained that the app had “failed to carry out adequate checks to identify and remove underage children.”

Addressing the fine in a statement, information commissioner John Edwards said in part: “TikTok should have known better. TikTok should have done better. Our £12.7m fine reflects the serious impact their failures may have had. They did not do enough to check who was using their platform or take sufficient action to remove the underage children that were using their platform.”

Worth mentioning in conclusion is that Australia has now joined the US (where a very small percentage of residents are said to oppose an outright TikTok ban), the UK, Canada, France, the European Union, and others in prohibiting TikTok’s use on government devices.

“After receiving advice from intelligence and security agencies, today I authorised the Secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department to issue a mandatory direction under the Protective Security Policy Framework to prohibit the TikTok app on devices issued by Commonwealth departments and agencies,” attorney general Mark Dreyfus said in a statement. “The direction will come into effect as soon as practicable.”

It recently came to light that Beijing-headquartered ByteDance has spent $14 million on stateside lobbying since 2019, and shortly prior to TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew’s appearance before Congress last month, the White House reportedly issued a forced-sale demand to ByteDance.