More than a year ago, TikTok got its knuckles rapped by U.S. regulators over allegations that it violated the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
TikTok paid a $5.7 million fine and promised to come into compliance with the law under a settlement with the FTC. But today, TikTok is still violating COPPA, a group of 20 advocacy groups alleged, and they are calling on the FTC to investigate the practices of the popular short-form social-video app and impose the maximum allowable fine on the company.
“With quarantined kids and families flocking to the site in record numbers, TikTok has failed to delete personal information previously collected from children and is still collecting kids’ personal information without notice to and consent of parents,” the coalition of groups, led by Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for Digital Democracy, announced Thursday.
COPPA requires websites and online services to obtain parental consent before collecting personal information from children under 13.
In a 56-page complaint filed with the FTC, the advocacy groups leveled three main charges against TikTok: They said the company has not deleted personal information for kids under 13 obtained prior to the 2019 FTC settlement; that it’s still not obtaining parents’ consent before collecting kids’ personal info; and that it does not allow parents to review or delete their personal information collected by TikTok on their children.
TikTok, owned by Chinese internet company Bytedance, did not address the specific allegations that it is still violating COPPA.
Asked for comment, a company rep said, “We take privacy seriously and are committed to helping ensure that TikTok continues to be a safe and entertaining community for our users.”
The company called out steps it has taken to protect the privacy of under-13 users, including the view-only TikTok for Younger Users app experience; Youth Portal, a collection of resources built in conjunction with associations including the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Family Online Safety Institute and the National PTA; and optional parental controls it launched last month.
But the groups that filed the FTC complaint argue that TikTok makes it easy for kids to avoid obtaining parental consent. Anyone can enter a fake birth date in the app. Meanwhile, the company collects information even for those who register for a TikTok for Younger Users account to determine videos to show next, the groups alleged.
Here’s the full list of groups signing on to the TikTok complaint to the FTC: Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, the Center for Digital Democracy, Badass Teachers Association, Berkeley Media Studies Group, Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Reports, Defending the Early Years, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Media Education Foundation, Obligation, Inc., Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, Parents Across America, ParentsTogether Foundation, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, Public Citizen, The Story of Stuff, United Church of Christ, and USPIRG.