Scroll to read more

More challenges for TikTok, with the short-form video app fined £12,700,000 ($US15.9 million) in the UK for letting underage children access and use the app.

As communicated by the UK Information Commissioner:

“ICO has issued a £12,700,000 fine to TikTok Information Technologies UK Limited and TikTok Inc (TikTok) for a number of breaches of data protection law, including failing to use children’s personal data lawfully. The ICO estimates that TikTok allowed up to 1.4 million UK children under 13 to use its platform in 2020, despite its own rules not allowing children that age to create an account.”

The fine is the first major issuance under new British rules designed to protect minors online. British regulators alerted TikTok to the investigation last September, when it also called on the app to improve its processes to ensure compliance with the updated rules. At that time, the fine was reportedly in the area of £27 million, so it’s been reduced significantly upon further negotiation.

Today’s fine announcement marks the conclusion of the investigation, with the ICO aiming to set a precedent with its action.

It’s a significant penalty, which is a lot higher than the fine it received for similar violations in the US.

Back in 2019, TikTok was fined $US5.7 million for collecting data on underage Americans who accessed the platform, without parental consent. As a result of that penalty, TikTok implemented new rules that now require all users to verify their age, with those under 13 now re-directed to a separate, more restricted in-app experience, which limits who can view and comment on their clips, as well as who can send them DMs.

Though, evidently, that hasn’t stopped many youngsters from signing up to the app.

TikTok has since added more tools and detection processes to better address this element, but retrospective breaches are still punishable, which means that TikTok will still have to pay this latest fine.

This is a critical area of concern, given the app’s popularity among younger audiences.

Internal data published by The New York Times in 2020 showed that around a third of TikTok’s user base is 14 years old or under, and while that may have shifted since, it still highlights the scope of the potential problem on this front.

TikTok has already faced various investigations over this element, which have even led to temporary bans in some regions due to its content. At the same time, TikTok has also come under scrutiny over its dangerous viral trends, with several underage users dying after trying to participate in risky activities as a result of exposure in the app.

Given the potential scale of the problem, and the risks of exposure in the app, the enforcement actions make sense. And while TikTok is working to improve its systems, there needs to be a level of significance placed on this element, to ensure greater compliance in future.

TikTok will now have 28 days to appeal the penalty.