TikTok has been hit with a hefty £12.7 million fine by the UK’s data watchdog for failing to protect the privacy of children. An investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) revealed that the video-sharing site had allowed up to 1.4 million UK children aged under 13 to use the platform in 2020 without parental consent.
The company responded by saying that it had invested heavily in safety measures, but the ICO was not convinced. The fine is one of the largest ever issued by the ICO and is a warning to other tech companies that they must abide by the laws in place to protect children online.
Campaigner Duncan McCann, who was trying to take on YouTube for similar reasons, welcomed the ICO’s action. He said that tech companies should not be collecting data from children and using it to serve them ads or recommendations, or encouraging them to share more data through enticing design features.
The UK Online Safety Bill, due to be passed in the coming months, requires strict age verification processes by social networks, some of whom are already beginning to implement them.
TikTok has 28 days to make representations and appeal against the scale of the fine. If successful, the ICO could reduce the final amount. The fines received by the ICO go back to the Treasury.
Trouble for TikTok is mounting as many Western countries are taking measures against it over fears users’ data will be shared with the Chinese government. The app has been banned on government devices in Canada, Belgium, Denmark, New Zealand, Taiwan, the UK, the US and for anyone working at the European Commission.
TikTok boss Shou Zi Chew was grilled in Congress over its safety and tried to reassure lawmakers that users’ data is secure. The BBC has also advised staff to delete TikTok from corporate phones.
It is clear that tech companies must take responsibility for protecting children online and adhere to data privacy laws. Fines such as this one issued to TikTok are a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done to ensure that children are safe when using social media platforms.