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TikTok fined £12.7m over ‘misusing children’s data’

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The social media site TikTok has been fined £12.7m by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) after it was found to have breached data protection law.

According to the ICO, the breaches included failing to use children’s personal data lawfully. The social media site’s terms state that children under 13 cannot create an account, yet the ICO estimates that around 1.4 million children in the UK were able to use TikTok in 2020.

The ICO pointed out that data protection law states that organisations which use personal data when offering information services to children must have consent from parents or carers, but that TikTok failed to do so, even when it must have been aware that children were using the platform.

TikTok was also found to have failed to carry out adequate checks to identify and remove accounts from its platform belonging to children.

The investigation found that concerns were raised internally at TikTok about children using the platform and not being removed, but these were not acted upon adequately.

John Edwards, the UK Information Commissioner, said TikTok did not abide by the laws in place to keep children safe online. As a result, around one million under-13s were inappropriately granted access to the platform, with TikTok collecting and using their personal data.

He continued: “That means that their data may have been used to track them and profile them, potentially delivering harmful, inappropriate content at their very next scroll.”

Edwards emphasised that TikTok should have known and done better, with the size of the fine reflecting the “serious impact” the failures may have resulted in.

“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,” he concluded. 

Keeping users safe

A spokesperson for TikTok said that the firm “invest heavily” to keep under-13s off the platform, with a “40,000 strong safety team” on hand to keep the platform safe.

They continued: “While we disagree with the ICO’s decision, which relates to May 2018-July 2020, we are pleased that the fine announced today has been reduced to under half the amount proposed last year. We will continue to review the decision and are considering next steps.”

Last year the ICO, in announcing a full investigation, warned that TikTok could be in line for a £27m fine due to these data failings.

The social media site has previously launched a ‘Stop, Think, Decide & Act’ campaign, aimed at preventing users from copying some of the dangerous or inappropriate acts they may see in videos on TikTok.

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