US Government Prepares TikTok Lawsuit Over Child Privacy

The US Department of Justice plans to focus an upcoming lawsuit against TikTok on allegations that the Chinese-owned social media platform violated children’s data protection rights, rather than on data privacy practices related to adult users, Reuters reported, citing unnamed sources.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigated TikTok and parent company ByteDance and referred its case to the Justice Department last week.

In an unusual step, the agency disclosed the move publicly, saying it had investigated TikTok’s compliance with an earlier legal settlement reached with the government, and had found new potential legal breaches.

The Justice Department has 45 days from the time of the referral to decide whether to pursue the case.

Image credit: Unsplash

Legal troubles

The privacy case is separate from a law signed by president Joe Biden in April that would force Chinese parent company ByteDance to divest TikTok’s US assets or be banned by 19 January.

TikTok, ByteDance and a group of US content creators are challenging the law in a case set for a hearing in September.

TikTok said last week that it has been working with the FTC for more than a year to address its concerns.

“We strongly disagree with the FTC’s allegations, many of which relate to past events and practices that are factually inaccurate or have been addressed,” the company said.

“We’re proud of and remain deeply committed to the work we’ve done to protect children and we will continue to update and improve our product.”

Children’s data

In 2019 TikTok settled FTC claims of violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) which alleged Musical.ly, a startup acquired by TikTok, was aware children used the app but did not seek parental consent before collecting their data.

TikTok paid a then-record $5.7 million (£4.5m) civil fine and agreed to ongoing compliance requirements.

“The investigation uncovered reason to believe named defendants are violating or are about to violate the law and that a proceeding is in the public interest,” the FTC said last week.

The European Commission is also investigating TikTok under new Digital Services Act rules related to the protection of minors, advertising transparency, data access for researchers and risk management for addictive design and harmful content.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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