The video-sharing giant, TikTok, has been hit with a hefty fine of €345m by the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) following an investigation into its handling of children’s data. The investigation, initiated in September 2021, scrutinized the platform’s practices during July to December 2020. It revealed that the “public-by-default” settings and the “Family Pairing” feature exposed child accounts to potential risks. The DPC concluded that TikTok failed to implement proper measures to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
The probe also found that child accounts were automatically set to public instead of private, and the “Family Pairing” feature allowed child accounts to sync with non-child users without verifying their identity as the child’s parent or guardian. It was also noted that non-child users could enable direct messages for child users above the age of 16, which lessened the safety measures for the younger users. The DPC criticized TikTok for not considering the risks posed to children under 13 who managed to gain access to TikTok due to these default settings.
TikTok disagreed with the ruling, stating that the criticized features have already been modified. The company expressed its disagreement with the fine’s magnitude, pointing out that the criticized features were changed before the investigation began. Despite this, two supervisory authorities raised objections after reviewing the DPC’s draft findings, leading the European Data Protection Board to instruct the DPC to include new infringement findings and broaden its order’s scope.
In addition to the massive fine, TikTok received a reprimand and an order to bring its data processing practices into compliance. Helen Dixon, the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, said she is satisfied with the significant enforcement measures imposed. Meanwhile, Alex Cooney, Chief Executive of CyberSafeKids, believes that the fine is appropriate and proportionate considering TikTok’s annual profits. A separate DPC investigation into TikTok’s data transfers to China is ongoing.
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