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Italy blocks TikTok for some users following girl's death

Officials are concerned it's too easy for underaged users to sign up.
TikTok logo is seen displayed on a phone screen in this illustration photo taken on October 3, 2020. (Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Jon Fingas
Jon Fingas|@jonfingas|January 23, 2021 1:28 PM

TikTok is facing mounting concerns over its approach to younger users. The Guardian reports that Italy’s Data Protection Authority (DPA) has blocked TikTok for users whose age can’t be verified after a 10-year-old girl died while allegedly participating in a “blackout” choking challenge. Officials said it was too easy for kids under 13 to sign up using a fake birth date, suggesting that the loose safeguards reeled the child into the service and cost her life.

The DPA further accused TikTok of violating Italian law requiring parental consent when kids under 14 sign up for social networks. The regulator also objected to data policies. TikTok doesn’t customize risk warnings and other info for children, according to the DPA, and posts are public by default rather than honoring laws requiring the option to make content private. The company is reportedly unclear about how long it keeps data, how it anonymizes info and how it transfers material outside of the EU.

The block lasts until February 15th, and TikTok will have until then to meet the DPA’s demands.

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A TikTok spokesperson didn’t say how the company would respond to Italy’s move. Instead, the representative stressed that safety was TikTok’s “absolute priority” and that the social media giant didn’t allow any content that “encourages, promotes or glorifies” dangerous behavior.

The tragedy illustrates the shortcomings and difficulties of monitoring for underage users on social networks. TikTok’s rule on underage users exists in no small part due to US’ COPPA child data privacy law, but that’s not the only country with similar rules — and some may insist on stricter enforcement than age gates. The company may need to implement considerably harsher measures to both prevent similar deaths and avoid crackdowns.

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