The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), a UK watchdog organization, announced on Tuesday that it had fined TikTok nearly $16 million for violating a number of data protection laws, including using the data of children under 13 without proper consent.
The ICO said TikTok allowed about 1.4 million U.K. children under 13 to use the social media platform despite having policies prohibiting children younger than 13 to create an account.
Under U.K. laws, companies that use personal data when offering services to children under 13 must get consent from parents, a step TikTok failed to do, the ICO said, adding that it also “failed to carry out adequate checks to identify and remove underage children from its platform.”
“There are laws in place to make sure our children are as safe in the digital world as they are in the physical world. TikTok did not abide by those laws.” said John Edwards, U.K. Information Commissioner.
“As a consequence, an estimated 1 million under 13s were inappropriately granted access to the platform, with TikTok collecting and using their personal data,” he said. “That means that their data may have been used to track them and profile them, potentially delivering harmful, inappropriate content at their very next scroll.”
A TikTok spokesperson told The Hill in an email that they “invest heavily” to keep children under the age of 13 off the platform.
“While we disagree with the ICO’s decision, which relates to May 2018-July 2020, we are pleased that the fine announced today has been reduced to under half the amount proposed last year. We will continue to review the decision and are considering next steps,” the spokesperson said.
This comes as TikTok faces increasing scrutiny over its app. A number of countries, including the U.S., are pushing to ban the app more broadly over national security and privacy concerns.
TikTok is also facing enormous pressure from the U.S. to completely divest from its Chinese-based parent company ByteDance or face nationwide ban in the U.S.