The Federal Trade Commission announced on Wednesday that popular kids’ app TikTok has been illegally collecting information on users under the age of 13 years old, violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
As a result, the FTC is slapping TikTok, which was formerly the lip-syncing Musical.ly app, with a $5.7 million fine, the largest child privacy-related civil penalty in the agency’s history.
“The operators of Musical.ly—now known as TikTok—knew many children were using the app but they still failed to seek parental consent before collecting names, email addresses, and other personal information from users under the age of 13,” FTC Chairman Joe Simons said in a statement.
According to the FTC’s report, TikTok received “thousands of complaints” from parents of young children. Yet the app failed to obtain parental consent for obtaining information or notify parents that it was even collecting data in the first place.
The FTC is requiring TikTok to not only pay the hefty fine but also to fully comply with COPPA moving forward.
TikTok addressed some of the changes that they’re making in a blog post on Wednesday. The app’s audience will now be split based on age to “accommodate younger US users in a limited, separate app experience that introduces additional safety and privacy protections designed specifically for this audience.”
The company, which will also release a series of tutorials educating users on how to change their privacy settings, also added, “We care deeply about the safety and privacy of our users. This is an ongoing commitment, and we are continuing to expand and evolve our protective measures in support of this.”
Simons hopes that the TikTok incident will set a precedent. The chairman said, “This record penalty should be a reminder to all online services and websites that target children: We take enforcement of COPPA very seriously, and we will not tolerate companies that flagrantly ignore the law.”