TikTok whacked again over abuse of kids’ personal data

tiktok 2Social media sensation TikTok, which is under investigation over data protection breaches on both sides of the Atlantic, has been slapped with yet another privacy related fine, after being found guilty of mishandling children’s personal information.

In what could potentially be the first of many monetary penalties, the South Korean Communications Commission (KCC), the country’s Ofcom equivalent, said it had fined the company 186 million won – about £123,000 – for failing to protect users’ private data.

The fine is the maximum permitted under South Korean law, and equivalent to 3% of TikTok’s annual sales in the country.

The investigation was launched last October, according to the KCC said, finding the firm had collected personal information of kids under the age of 14 without parental or guardian consent and had failed to notify users of the transfer of personal data overseas.

The probe revealed TikTok currently uses four cloud companies to store its data – Alibaba Cloud, Fastly, Edgecast, and Firebase – although has claimed it will improve the way it handles user data going forward.

With an estimated 800 million global active users, primarily aged between 13 and 30, the video sharing app has seen a huge spike in popularity since the coronavirus lockdown, with advertisers desperate for a slice of the action.

However, continued complaints from consumers in the EU have prompted the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) to set up a task force to co-ordinate potential actions against parent company Bytedance and to acquire a more comprehensive overview of TikTok’s data processing and practices across the bloc.

Last year, the company was forced to pay $5.7m (£4.5m) in a settlement with the US Federal Trade Commission over allegations it collected images, voice recordings, and geolocation data of children, some younger than 13. Soon after, UK Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham told a parliamentary committee that her office was also investigating the company, prompted by the FTC action.

In April this year, the Dutch data protection authority – Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens – also launched an investigation into whether TikTok adequately protects the privacy of children under Dutch law and GDPR.

And, last month, a coalition of children’s and consumer groups accused the app of failing to abide by its agreement with the FTC to protect children’s privacy. TikTok maintains it is “committed to protecting the privacy of children” and only collects limited information from younger users.

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