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Data Protection

TikTok fined £12.7 million in UK after it ‘did not do enough’ to keep under-13s off platform

This comes after Australia earlier today said it will ban TikTok on government devices.

LAST UPDATE | 4 Apr 2023

SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORM TikTok has been fined £12.7 million in the UK because it “did not do enough” to make sure underage children were not using its platform and ensure that their data was used correctly.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said that TikTok allowed up to 1.4 million kids under 13 to use its platform in 2020, which was against its terms of service.

However the fine is less than half the £27 million that the ICO originally said it might fine TikTok for breaches.

TikTok nevertheless said that it disagrees with the decision and would consider its options.

The regulator slashed the potential fine, which it first announced in September last year, after deciding not to pursue an initial finding that the company had unlawfully used “special category data”.

Special data includes ethnic and racial origin, political opinions, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, trade union membership, genetic and biometric data or health data.

But the regulator upheld its findings that TikTok failed to ensure that users under 13 had permission from their parents or carers to use the platform.

It also did not carry out adequate checks to identify and remove these children from its site despite concerns being raised to senior members of staff.

“There are laws in place to make sure our children are as safe in the digital world as they are in the physical world. TikTok did not abide by those laws,” said information commissioner John Edwards.

“As a consequence, an estimated one million under-13s were inappropriately granted access to the platform, with TikTok collecting and using their personal data.

“That means that their data may have been used to track them and profile them, potentially delivering harmful, inappropriate content at their very next scroll.

“TikTok should have known better. TikTok should have done better. Our £12.7m fine reflects the serious impact their failures may have had.

“They did not do enough to check who was using their platform or take sufficient action to remove the underage children that were using their platform.”

TikTok said: “TikTok is a platform for users aged 13 and over. We invest heavily to help keep under 13s off the platform and our 40,000 strong safety team works around the clock to help keep the platform safe for our community.

“While we disagree with the ICO’s decision, which relates to May 2018 – July 2020, we are pleased that the fine announced today has been reduced to under half the amount proposed last year.

“We will continue to review the decision and are considering next steps.”

Australia ban 

This comes after Australia earlier today said it will ban TikTok on government devices.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the decision followed advice from the country’s intelligence agencies and would begin “as soon as practicable”.

Australia is the last member of the Five Eyes security alliance to pursue a government TikTok ban, joining its allies the United States, Britain, Canada and New Zealand.

France, the Netherlands and the European Commission have made similar moves.

Dreyfus said the government would approve some exemptions on a “case-by-case basis” with “appropriate security mitigations in place”.

In a security notice outlining the ban, the Attorney-General’s department said TikTok posed “significant security and privacy risks” stemming from the “extensive collection of user data”.

China condemned the ban, saying it had “lodged stern representations” with Canberra over the move and urging Australia to “provide Chinese companies with a fair, transparent and non-discriminatory business environment”.

“China has always maintained that the issue of data security should not be used as a tool to generalise the concept of national security, abuse state power and unreasonably suppress companies from other countries,” foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said.

The security concerns are underpinned by a 2017 Chinese law that requires local firms to hand over personal data to the state if it is relevant to national security.

Beijing has denied these reforms pose a threat to ordinary users.

China “has never and will not require companies or individuals to collect or provide data located in a foreign country, in a way that violates local law”, foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said in March.

‘Rooted in xenophobia’

TikTok has said such bans are “rooted in xenophobia”, while insisting that it is not owned or operated by the Chinese government.

The company’s Australian spokesman Lee Hunter said it would “never” give data to the Chinese government.

“No one is working harder to make sure this would never be a possibility,” he told Australia’s Channel Seven.

But the firm acknowledged in November that some employees in China could access European user data, and in December it said employees had used the data to spy on journalists.

With reporting by © AFP 2023

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