A coalition of consumer, privacy and children’s advocacy groups filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission this week claiming TikTok has not deleted the personal information of users under 13 in defiance of a consent decree the company came to with the agency in 2019.
The complaint, led by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for Digital Democracy, claims the social media company still has the personal information of users 13 years old and younger that date back to accounts created as early as 2016.
On Feb. 27, 2019, the FTC filed a complaint against TikTok, previously known as Musical.ly, claiming the company violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA. The FTC noted that the age, birth date and school information for users under 13 was available for anyone to see.
TikTok settled with the FTC and, according to the consent decree, the agency fined TikTok $5.7 million. It also gave the company the choice of deleting either the personal information of all users or deleting just the personal information of all users under the age of 13. The FTC also required TikTok to obtain parental consent before collecting personal information from children.
“TikTok has not obtained parental consent for these accounts. Contrary to the terms of the consent decree, TikTok fails to make reasonable efforts to ensure that a parent of a child receives direct notice of its practices regarding the collection, use, or disclosure of personal information,” the current complaint against the company states.
Michael Rosenbloom, a fellow at thee Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., who helped file the complaint, said in an interview Thursday the groups began investigating how TikTok was complying with the consent decree last summer. He explained the groups created accounts with birth dates for users who would be 13 years old or younger to see what would happen. The organizations found TikTok did not direct them to get parental permission before offering personal information. Rosenbloom said the organizations have not appealed to TikTok directly but have not ruled out doing so.
“The consent decree asked them to stop violating COPPA and delete the information they held on users under 13. They haven’t successfully done either of those things,” Rosenbloom explained.
The Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for Digital Democracy are asking the FTC to penalize TikTok $41,484 per violation of COPPA. They are also asking the FTC to enjoin the company from registering new users until it adopts a method for determining the ages of its users and becomes fully compliant with COPPA.
“That sounds extreme, but the point is to get them to come into compliance,” Rosenbloom said.
Outside of privacy issues, TikTok has been accused by American politicians of being a threat to national security. Last October, Sens. Tom Cotton and Chuck Schumer wrote a letter to Joseph Maguire, the director of national intelligence, asking the intelligence agency to conduct an assessment of the national security risks posed by TikTok.
In January, TikTok announced the hiring of Erich Andersen as its first global general counsel. At the time, the company indicated the hiring was made to bolster its compliance and intellectual property efforts.
A spokesperson for TikTok did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
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