TikTok: US authorities file complaint for potential violations of children’s privacy

TikTok, the popular social network, is once again at the center of controversy in the United States. On Tuesday, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced it had filed a complaint against TikTok and its parent company ByteDance with the Department of Justice. The FTC suspects TikTok of potentially violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which mandates that social networks obtain parental consent before collecting data from children under 13.

According to a Reuters report, the FTC had previously indicated in March that it was investigating TikTok for alleged lapses in privacy and data security practices. “The investigation has uncovered evidence suggesting that the defendants are or may be violating the law, and that pursuing this matter is in the public interest,” the FTC stated.

In 2019, TikTok was fined $5.7 million by the FTC for a similar offense, accused of illegally gathering data from millions of users under 13 without parental consent—the largest fine the FTC has issued for a children’s privacy case to date. At that time, TikTok had committed to increasing its moderation team from 6,000 to 10,000 employees.

Despite these measures, it appears that effective parental controls were not established by TikTok, potentially prompting the FTC to publicly disclose its latest complaint. “While the FTC typically does not announce referral of complaints, we believe it is warranted in this instance due to public interest,” the FTC added in its statement to Reuters, without elaborating further.

With 170 million users in the United States, TikTok is also under scrutiny from Congress, investigating allegations of potential unauthorized access to Americans’ data by the Chinese government, which TikTok denies.

Furthermore, TikTok faces the prospect of being banned in the U.S. On April 24, President Joe Biden signed legislation requiring ByteDance to divest its U.S. operations of TikTok or risk removal from American app stores. In response, several content creators filed a lawsuit in May against the U.S. government, arguing that the law passed in April infringes upon their First Amendment rights to freedom of expression.

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