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FTC fines TikTok $5.7 million over child privacy violations

It's creating a new age gate and publishing safety videos.
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Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images

The creators of TikTok are facing US penalties for allegedly doing too little to respect kids' privacy. The Federal Trade Commission has fined TikTok (aka Musical.ly) $5.7 million as part of a settlement over reported COPPA violations in its lip-syncing video app. Regulators said that TikTok not only collected personal information from under-13 users without their parents' consent, but made those profiles public and, until October 2016, let people share their location with nearby friends. The developers knew a "significant percentage" of users were under 13 but didn't change their ways even after "thousands of complaints," the FTC said.

The settlement also requires that TikTok honor COPPA in the future, and to pull all videos created by children under 13.

The company is already taking action, albeit on a basic level. It's establishing an age gate that will limit data collection and prevent the 12-and-under audience from posting or sharing videos -- they can only like clips and follow users. TechCrunch noted that kids are likely to fib about their age to bypass the gate, but this at least acknowledges COPPA's presence and gives parents a way to control access.

The settlement arrives just as TikTok is releasing a series of online safety videos (below) to protect younger fans. The lighthearted clips help users deal with unwanted messages, turn on Restricted Mode, honor community rules and set screen time options. They're only available in the US and UK for now, but they and other videos will be available in other countries. TikTok knows its audience may not know how to deal with harassment and other inappropriate behavior, and this might help kids (and their parents) address it directly.

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