UK regulators are investigating ByteDance‘s short video application TikTok on how they handle the personal data collected from younger users, and whether it prioritizes the safety of children on its social network.
UK Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said the investigation began in February when a multi-million dollar fine was imposed on TikTok by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) due to the illegal collection of personal information from children under the age of 13.
“We are looking at the transparency tools for children,” Denham said on July 2. “We’re looking at the messaging system, which is completely open, we’re looking at the kind of videos that are collected and shared by children online. We do have an active investigation into TikTok right now, so watch this space.”
The company says it is most popular with 16- to 24-year-olds but according to BBC, there is evidence that many users are under 13, which is against the app’s rules.
According to FTC, TikTok violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act by failing to obtain parental consent before collecting personal information on kids under the age of 13. TikTok also did not delete the collected information after receiving complaints from parents and children.
Another issue that concerns many is that TikTok allows users to send digital gifts to their favorite content creators. Gifts appear as animations on the screen and can cost as much as $60. Stephanie Barbour, a mother from Toronto, found her 11-year-old daughter running up a bill of $400 on TikTok. “I was shocked when I found out what the money was spent on,” she said. “I said to my daughter, ‘So you don’t actually get anything for it?’ and she said, ‘No.'”
Bytedance, the company behind TikTok, stated that it is currently investigating digital gifting. “We do not tolerate behaviors that are deceptive in nature and we are sorry to hear some of the users’ experiences.” Bytedance said in a statement to the BBC. “We recognize there is always room for improvements in terms of making guidelines and information more accessible, clear and easy-to-understand for all users.”