Why it matters: In case you are out of the loop (or are not a parent), TikTok is all the rage with the kids these days. The app lets users share short and sometimes funny music and lip-syncing videos. The company has gotten in hot water over child privacy violations more than one occasion, the latest of which it settled in less than 24 hours.
On Tuesday, a group of parents filed a class-action lawsuit against TikTok for allegedly collecting and exposing the data and personal information of their minor children. By Wednesday, holding company ByteDance had quickly and quietly settled the claims out of court.
Gary Klinger, chief legal counsel for ByteDance, declined to comment on the terms of the agreement but confirmed that the case had been settled.
A spokesperson for TikTok stated that the company denies most of the complaints leveled against it, but that it has reached a “resolution” with the parents.
“TikTok is firmly committed to safeguarding the data of its users, especially our younger users,” the representative told The Verge. “Although we disagree with much of what is alleged in the complaint, we have been working with the parties involved and are pleased to have come to a resolution of the issues.”
The lawsuit asserts that the TikTok app (formerly known as Musical.ly) did not implement measures to prevent younger children from using the popular video-sharing software. Under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), websites (or online apps) must restrict users under the age of 13 from creating online accounts without parental consent. TikTok allegedly did not do this.
Furthermore, when creating accounts for the app, users are prompted to enter personally identifiable information (PII), including their name, phone number, email address, photo, and bio. The information entered is used to create a profile, which is publicly viewable by default.
The filing also claims that between December 2015 and October 2016, TikTok collected location data of its app users.
All allegations violate COPPA, which carries penalties of up to $41,484 per child per privacy violation. Privo notes examples of several past transgressions. The latest was a judgment against YouTube on September 1 for $200 million for targeting ads to minors.
TikTok’s situation is particularly sticky as the app has become hugely popular with tweens (kids aged 10-12) and has been downloaded more than 100 million times in the US alone.
This is not the first run-in with COPPA issues that the company has had, either. Earlier this year, TikTok settled with the FTC for $5.7 million over similar violations of the child privacy law. In September, FTC Chairman Joe Simons issued a statement regarding the settlement saying that “[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.”
TikTok has since changed the app so that if users enter a birthdate that puts them under the age of 13, they cannot enter any information into their profile.
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