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The backstory: We’ve heard plenty about TikTok, the app that's all the rage among Gen Z (and some millennials). But beyond its viral dance challenges, TikTok has made headlines for security concerns and its ties to China. The platform’s been banned from official use by several governments, including the US, Canada, the UK, New Zealand, Australia and others.
With over a billion users worldwide, it’s also been facing heat for not doing enough to protect kid’s personal data. In September 2022, the UK's Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) proposed a £27 million (US$32.8 million) fine on TikTok for not doing enough to protect kids’ privacy. Then, in April, that fine was reduced to £12.7 million (US$15.9 million). The ICO found that TikTok wasn't doing a great job of checking the ages of its users and might've been using kids' data to track and profile them without the consent of the parents. A TikTok spokesperson said it disagreed with the ICO but was glad the fine had been reduced from the initial amount.
More recently, The Irish Data Protection Commission, the EU’s lead regulator, hit TikTok with a €345 million (around US$365 million) fine last month. It’s the biggest fine it’s gotten so far. Regulators did a deep dive into TikTok's business and found it was a bit loose in protecting kids' data. Plus, TikTok's playbook for privacy settings and data collection wasn’t exactly crystal clear. The whole EU got involved because the issues were widespread. So, the European Data Protection Board, a panel of data watchdogs from 30 countries in Europe, nodded to this fine.
The development: In response to the penalty from European regulators, ByteDance has filed an appeal in the EU's General Court, challenging the fine. At the same time, TikTok is also contesting locally an order issued by the Irish agency for TikTok to eliminate what it calls "deceptive or manipulative" practices that impact user privacy.
"TikTok is a platform for users aged 13 and over," said a TikTok spokesperson to CNBC. "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."
"TikTok has never shared, or received a request to share, U.S. user data with the Chinese government. Nor would TikTok honor such a request if one were ever made," said TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew in written testimony to the US House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee.
"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 UK Information Commissioner John Edwards.