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TikTok is facing a $30m fine over alleged misuse of kids’ data

TikTok’s legal battles just don’t stop.

tiktok logo with blurred smartphone in the background
Image: KnowTechie

Embattled video-sharing app TikTok faces a potential $30m fine after UK regulators accused the company of mishandling user data. 

During its investigation, the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) learned the company may have processed the data of underage children without “appropriate parental consent.” 

The ICO further alleges TikTok improperly processed “special category data” without lawful grounds. 

The term “special category data” encompasses a broad swath of identifiers. These range from the user’s ethnic and racial origins, to their political and religious beliefs.

Finally, the ICO believes the ICO has “failed to provide proper information” about its data policies in a “concise, transparent, and easily understood way.” 

A notice of intent

tiktok on iphone
Image: Unsplash

The ICO has issued a “notice of intent.” This document represents the first step for any action. It outlines the regulator’s allegations against TikTok, as well as any penalties it may be forced to pay.

Under UK law, TikTok could pay £27m (roughly $30m at current exchange rates). 

This figure exceeds the $5.7m fine issued by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2019, but dwarfs its 2021 ad revenue of $4bn. 

In a statement, John Edwards, the UK’s information Commissioner said: “We all want children to be able to learn and experience the digital world, but with proper data privacy protections. 

“Companies providing digital services have a legal duty to put those protections in place, but our provisional view is that TikTok fell short of meeting that requirement,” he added. 

More bad news for TikTok

Today’s news is yet another run of misfortune for the Chinese-owned video sharing app. The social media sensation faces increased scrutiny from lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic. 

Last month, a Belgian security researcher revealed the presence of a keylogger that records user keystrokes when visiting external websites from the TikTok app

This followed an intervention from FCC commissioner Brendan Carr, who unsuccessfully lobbied Apple and Google to delete the app from their marketplaces this June. 

Most notably, the Trump Administration attempted to ban the app. TikTok’s owner, ByteDance, avoided a total ban by agreeing to sell its US operations to an American company. It highlighted Oracle as a potential buyer

In the end, Oracle didn’t acquire TikTok’s US branch. The app remains the subject of controversy to this day. 

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Matthew Hughes is a journalist from Liverpool, England. His interests include security, startups, food, and storytelling. Past work can be found on The Register, Reason, The Next Web, and Wired.

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