FTC Refers TikTok Child Privacy Complaint to Justice Department

The Federal Trade Commission said it referred a case regarding potential violations by TikTok of a children’s privacy law to the Justice Department.

In 2019, TikTok agreed to pay $5.7 million to settle FTC allegations that it illegally collected personal info from children, which the agency said at the time was the largest civil penalty ever obtained in a children’s privacy case. The case alleged Musical.ly (TikTok’s predecessor) violated the U.S. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which requires websites and online services aimed at kids to obtain parental consent before collecting personal information from children under 13.

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Upon a review of the settlement, the FTC said it investigated “additional potential violations of COPPA and the FTC Act” by TikTok. The complaint also names ByteDance, the Chinese internet giant that is TikTok’s parent.

“The investigation uncovered reason to believe named defendants are violating or are about to violate the law and that a proceeding is in the public interest, so the Commission has voted to refer a complaint to the DOJ,” the FTC said in a statement.

In a statement on the FTC decision, TikTok said, “We’ve been working with the FTC for more than a year to address its concerns. We’re disappointed the agency is pursuing litigation instead of continuing to work with us on a reasonable solution. We strongly disagree with the FTC’s allegations, many of which relate to past events and practices that are factually inaccurate or have been addressed. We’re proud of and remain deeply committed to the work we’ve done to protect children and we will continue to update and improve our product. We offer an age-appropriate experience with stringent safeguards, proactively remove suspected underage users, and have voluntarily launched safety features such as default screentime limits, family pairing, and privacy by default for minors under 16.”

The FTC’s referral of the matter to the DOJ comes as TikTok is challenging a law passed this spring with bipartisan support that would ban the app unless Beijing-based ByteDance sells its stake in TikTok. U.S. lawmakers backing the law cited fears that TikTok represents a national security threat, potentially giving the Chinese government a way to spy on Americans or push pro-China propaganda through the video app.

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