Children's groups say TikTok hasn't made changes to protect underage users

Mariella Moon
Associate Editor
Bangkok, Thailand - August 22, 2019 : iPhone 7 showing its screen with TikTok and other social media application icons.

A group of 20 children’s and consumer groups is accusing TikTok of failing to implement the changes it promised last year to settle the child privacy violation charges it faced. The lip-syncing video app had to strike a deal with the Federal Trade Commission in 2019, because according to regulators, its predecessor Musical.ly collected personal information from users under 13 without their parental consent. In addition, Musical.ly made their profiles public by default, giving everyone access to their names, images and videos. Users could even share their location with nearby friends.

TikTok, as part of the settlement, agreed to secure parental permission before collecting any child’s information. It also promised to delete the videos and details of users under 13 and of those whose ages can’t be determined. However, the groups that filed the new complaint submitted evidence that videos from underage users uploaded way back in 2016 remain accessible on the app.

They also discovered that TikTok’s age verification system is easy to fool. The service introduced “TikTok for Younger Users” last year in an effort to protect underage members, but it looks like one can easily delete their profile and sign up for a regular account using a fake birthdate even on the same device. The New York Times has confirmed that that’s indeed the case.

The group has filed its complaint just as TikTok is enjoying a surge in popularity due to the coronavirus pandemic. Josh Golin, the executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, told NYT in a statement:

“For years, TikTok has ignored [the children’s privacy law,] thereby ensnaring perhaps millions of underage children in its marketing apparatus, and putting children at risk of sexual predation. Now, even after being caught red-handed by the F.T.C., TikTok continues to flout the law.”

Meanwhile, a TikTok spokesperson told the publication:

“We take privacy seriously and are committed to helping ensure that TikTok continues to be a safe and entertaining community for our users.”