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Bipartisan Group Of Senators Call For Investigation Into TikTok’s Alleged Violation Of Kids’ Privacy

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Mary Margaret Olohan Social Issues Reporter
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  • A bipartisan group of senators called for an investigation into TikTok Friday.
  • Republican Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, Democratic Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Republican Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn urged the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate potential violations of children’s privacy.
  • “We are committed to continuously evaluating and improving our protections,” a TikTok spokesperson told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

A bipartisan group of senators called for an investigation into TikTok’s children’s privacy practices Friday.

Republican Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, Democratic Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Republican Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn urged the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Friday to investigate potential TikTok violations of children’s privacy.

“We write to call upon your agency to investigate new evidence suggesting that the popular video social media platform TikTok is violating legal obligations to protect kids’ privacy and urge you to hold the company accountable for any illegal activity,” the senators wrote. (RELATED: TikTok Reinstates Live Action Account, Apologizes, Says ‘Human Error’ Caused Ban)

The letter continued: “As the coronavirus pandemic continues to keep kids at home and young people’s screen time skyrockets, it is imperative that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) upholds its obligation to protect children’s privacy and enforce the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).”

The senators referenced a 55-page complaint about privacy abuses filed May 14 by a coalition of more than 20 children’s advocacy groups with the FTC. The complaint found “damaging evidence to suggest that TikTok likely violated the FTC consent decree and may have further infringed upon child users’ privacy,” the letter said.

The complaint included evidence suggesting that TikTok did not delete personal information collected about users and that the platform did not delete all the information collected about users younger than 13. These are both options “stipulated under the consent decree,” according to the letter.

“Screenshots taken directly from the TikTok platform show that children’s data, including video and images of children who are clearly under age 13, were still available on the application months after the FTC’s consent decree took effect,” the letter stated.

TikTok also failed to follow several other “legally binding regulatory transparency requirements” such as notifying a child’s parent when the child signs up to use the app — an FTC regulation TikTok is required to follow under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, according to the letter.

“The policy also appears to lack essential information, including a description of the data that the app collects about children, an omission which leaves parents in the dark on whether they can opt-out of objectionable data surveillance practices.”

TikTok does not appear to give parents the option to “review and delete their children’s data from the platform,” despite an FTC order requiring that parents be able to do so, the senators said.

“As the ongoing public health crisis continues to catalyze children’s increased tech use, the FTC must increase its attention to the dangers that minors encounter online, including the manipulation of kids’ attention and their data for advertising dollars,” they added.

A TikTok spokesperson told the Daily Caller News Foundation in a statement that the platform takes safety seriously for all users.

“Some recent initiatives include the launch of our Youth Portal, where teens and their families can learn about internet safety, and Family Pairing, which gives parents greater control over their teenager’s TikTok experience,” the spokesperson said.

“In the US, we accommodate users under 13 in a limited app experience that introduces additional safety and privacy protections designed specifically for a younger audience,” the spokesperson added. “As part of our commitment to our users, we are committed to continuously evaluating and improving our protections.”

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