- The viral app TikTok is a particular popular app among teens and minors. Internal company data from July shows TikTok classified 18 million users – more than one-third of its daily userbase in the US – as being 14 years or younger, The New York Times reports.
- Employees regularly noticed videos from children who appeared to be even younger than 13, according to the Times.
- Children’s privacy laws in the US prohibit apps like TikTok from collecting personal information of children under 13 without parental consent. TikTok paid a $US5.7 million fine to settle such allegations in 2019, and is once again under federal investigation for failing to change its policies regarding young users.
- The Times report raises concerns about whether TikTok does enough to protect the privacy of its youngest users, especially as the company faces off against a Trump administration threatening to ban the app.
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If you’ve ever been on TikTok, it’s apparent that its userbase skews young. But internal data reportedly shows that TikTok believes more than one-third of its users in the US are just 14 or younger.
TikTok data obtained by the New York Times shows that in July, the viral video-sharing app classified around 18 million of its 49 million daily US users as 14 years old or younger. The young demographic of TikTok’s audience raises concerns about its compliance with children’s privacy laws, adding pressure to the platform – as well as its Chinese parent company, ByteDance – as it battles against the Trump administration to stay in the US.
The Times’ report offer the public a rare glimpse inside the demographic breakdown of TikTok’s US userbase, which has largely appeared to be teens who see the app as a launchpad for viral memes and internet humour. The minimum age for using TikTok is 13, set to help the company comply with US law intended to protect the personal information of minors. Under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, websites and online services are required to obtain parental consent before collecting personal information of users who are under 13. COPPA protects personal data like phone numbers, addresses, and photos and videos.
However, a former TikTok employee told the Times that workers regularly pointed out videos from children on the platform who appeared to be younger than 13, but those users weren’t immediately removed.
This isn’t the first time that TikTok’s young userbase has raised questions about whether the platform is protecting children and complying with COPPA. In 2019, TikTok paid out a $US5.7 million fine to the Federal Trade Commission to settle allegations its US predecessor – Musical.ly, which ByteDance acquired and merged with TikTok in 2018 – violated COPPA by illegally collecting personal information from children under age 13, including their first and last names, photos, and phone numbers.
Per the FTC settlement, TikTok had promised to delete existing data it had on young users and change its practices to adhere to COPPA. However, earlier this year, privacy advocates accused TikTok of breaking the terms of the FTC settlement by failing to alter policies, and refusing to delete videos and other content obtained illegally.
After a group of US senators called on the government to take action, the FTC and US Justice Department are now reportedly looking into allegations it failed to live up to its 2019 agreement.
In a statement to Business Insider, a TikTok spokesperson wrote: “As a private company, we don’t disclose user demographics. We’re proud to provide a fun place for families to create content and spend time together, particularly during the pandemic. We’re committed to protecting the privacy and safety of the people and families who come to TikTok for entertainment, self-expression, and connection.”
The app’s future in the US is unknown, as the Trump administration vows to adopt a nationwide ban of the app, claiming it poses a national security risk to Americans because of its ties to China through ByteDance. However, experts have found no proof TikTok is spying for China, and TikTok has threatened to sue the administration over its executive order banning the app.
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