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TikTok Fined €345 Million for Violating Children’s Privacy

On September 15, 2023, TikTok, the Chinese-owned short-video platform, ended up confronting a huge monetary mishap as it was fined a staggering €345 million (equivalent to $370 million) by the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) in Ireland for breaching privacy laws related to the processing of children’s personal data within the European Union.

This significant penalty addresses the biggest fine forced on TikTok in Europe to date and highlights the developing worry over how tech organizations handle sensitive user data, particularly that of children.

TikTok Fined €345 Million for Violating Children's Privacy

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TikTok has turned into a worldwide phenomenon, particularly well known among young people, with a large number of users around the world. However, its rapid rise has also raised questions about its data privacy practices, especially concerning minors.

The DPC started an examination concerning TikTok’s data handling in September 2021, focusing on its compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the platform’s treatment of users aged below 18. The investigation covered the period from July 31, 2020, to December 31, 2020.

One of the huge infringement recognized by the DPC was TikTok’s default setting, which made newly created user profiles public by default. This meant that videos, comments, and other user-generated content were accessible to anyone, potentially compromising the privacy and safety of underage users.

TikTok’s “Family Pairing” feature, designed to allow parents to link their accounts to their children’s, failed to verify whether the parent or guardian status of the user was genuine. This oversight raised worries about the potential for adults to interact with underage users on the platform.

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Because of the DPC’s discoveries and resulting fine, TikTok communicated its disagreement with the decision, especially the magnitude of the penalty.

The platform argued that many of the issues raised by the DPC were related to features and settings that had been modified well before the investigation commenced, such as setting all accounts of users under 16 to private by default.

TikTok further claimed that it had taken proactive measures to improve the platform’s safety, including enhanced parental controls and privacy settings.

TikTok reported its obligation to further developing user privacy and safety by updating its privacy materials to provide clearer distinctions between public and private accounts.

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Starting later in the month, the platform intends to automatically set private accounts for new users aged 16-17 during the registration process.

The fine imposed on TikTok is in line with the European Union‘s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which was enacted in 2018. Under the GDPR, the lead regulator for any company can levy fines of up to 4% of the company’s global revenue for violations related to data privacy and protection.

The DPC has a history of imposing substantial fines on major tech companies, with previous penalties totaling billions of euros. The DPC has not limited its actions to this single investigation.

It currently has an ongoing probe into TikTok’s transfer of personal data to China and its compliance with EU data regulations when sending data to non-EU countries. The outcome of this second investigation could further impact TikTok’s operations and practices.

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