The UK’s data watchdog found more than one million UK children under the age of 13 were estimated to be on TikTok in 2020.
The UK’s data watchdog has fined TikTok £12.7 million (€14.5 million) for misuse of children’s data.
The company is accused of a number of breaches of UK data protection law, including failure to use children’s personal data lawfully.
The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) said it estimates TikTok allowed as many as 1.4 million children under the age of 13 in the UK onto its platform in 2020, despite the company’s own rules not allowing children of that age to create an account.
Under UK data protection law, organisations that use personal data of children under 13 need to have parental consent.
“TikTok also failed to carry out adequate checks to identify and remove underage children from its platform,” the ICO said in a statement.
“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, the UK Information Commissioner.
“As a consequence, an estimated one million under 13s were inappropriately granted access to the platform, with TikTok collecting and using their personal data. 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.
“They did not do enough to check who was using their platform or take sufficient action to remove the underage children that were using their platform”.
TikTok said it disagreed with the watchdog’s decision.
“We invest heavily to help keep under 13s off the platform and our 40,000-strong safety team works around the clock to help keep the platform safe for our community,” the company said in a statement.
“We will continue to review the decision and are considering next steps”.
TikTok privacy concerns
The fine comes amid widespread scrutiny of the app, owned by Chinese company Bytedance, over data security and privacy worries.
A number of countries’ governments have banned employees from downloading the app on official phones and devices, over security fears.
“It's interesting to note, particularly with the current spate of government bans on the app on work devices, that the £12.7 million (€14.5 million) fine partly relates to general transparency failures,” Nigel Jones, the co-founder of Privacy Compliance Hub, told Euronews Next.
“TikTok has also been fined for failing to provide information to its users about how their data is collected, used and shared in a way that is clear and easily understandable and for failing to ensure that UK users' personal data is processed lawfully and fairly".
“We all need to understand exactly what TikTok is doing with our personal data so we can decide for ourselves whether we should delete the app too,” he added.
According to the ICO, its investigation found that a concern was raised internally at TikTok with some senior employees about children under 13 using the platform and not being removed. It said, in its view, TikTok did not respond adequately.
In a statement a TikTok spokesperson said: "We encourage a culture of transparency and feedback across our teams, and also work closely with industry experts and partners to improve our policies and enforcement processes. There's no finish line when it comes to keeping our community safe."