TikTok is in trouble with regulators again, this time in the UK with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). The body says that an investigation has found that TikTok “may have breached UK data protection law, failing to protect children’s privacy when using the TikTok platform”, and has issued the company with a ‘notice of intent’ that signifies a fine is coming its way as a result.
According to the ICO, that fine could be £27m ($29.1m at the time of writing, but who knows what it’ll be by the time you read this…) The ICO stressed in its announcement that this is a preliminary finding, and that TikTok will be able to make its case in defence before a final decision is taken.
The investigation focused on whether TikTok processed the data of children under the age of 13 without the necessary parental consent. However, it also examined whether it failed to provide “proper information to its users in a concise, transparent and easily understood way”, and processed ’special category data’ (in this case, information about people’s ethnic and racial origin, political opinions, religious beliefs, sexual orientation and/or various other things) without legal grounds.
The news came just a few weeks after Irish regulator the Data Protection Commission (DPC) fined Instagram €405m following an investigation into how that app handled children’s data – in that case, focusing on 13-17 year-olds who had set up business accounts on the service.
The DPC has also been investigating TikTok’s handling of children’s privacy since last year, and recently submitted its draft decision to fellow European regulators for a month-long review process. That suggests that the decision could be made public next month (or at least by the end of the year), and based on the Instagram case, if the ruling goes against TikTok, any punishment could dwarf the ICO’s potential £27m fine, not to mention the $5.7m fine it paid in a 2019 settlement with US regulator the FTC over children’s privacy.
TikTok, like other social media firms whose handling of children’s data is under the microscope, has launched a series of new safety and privacy features in recent times. It will be making its case to the ICO, DPC and other regulators whenever possible. However, if rulings keep going against it, they will spark some important questions for music companies and artists with young fanbases who are using TikTok.