TikTok has been fined 345 million euros because the video app has done too little to protect children’s privacy. The Irish privacy watchdog imposed this fine, among other things, because videos of children on the platform were automatically visible to everyone.
Minors are also said to have received unclear information about their account settings.
The Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) investigation into TikTok, which ultimately led to the fine, was partly at the request of the Dutch Data Protection Authority. After its investigation, it imposed a fine of only 750,000 on TikTok in 2021 because the popular app did not provide information in Dutch. However, the regulator also encountered indications of more severe privacy violations that affected children.
Because TikTok opened a European headquarters in Ireland in 2020, that country’s regulator was primarily responsible for enforcing European privacy rules. “This case shows how privacy regulators in Europe are jointly taking a stand against large tech companies that violate privacy,” said Aleid Wolfsen, chairman of the Dutch Data Protection Authority.
The Irish privacy watchdog takes the fact that settings on TikTok accounts were automatically set to “public” extra seriously because this would also have jeopardized the privacy of children under 13. In addition, the committee came across settings within TikTok, which it calls “dark patterns”, that automatically directed users to options that protected their privacy less well.
It is also striking that the regulator found a violation in a function that should give parents more control over their children’s TikTok account. According to the Data Protection Commission, the ‘family pairing’ function was designed so that not only parents or caregivers could link their account to that of their child but also other adults.
TikTok disagrees with the decision, especially with the fine amount. “The DPC’s criticism is aimed at features and settings that were in place three years ago and that we adjusted long before the investigation began, such as setting all accounts under 16 to private by default,” said one commenter—spokesperson via email. The social media company is still considering possible next steps, such as an appeal against the fine.