Feb 27, 2019

TikTok app hit with record fine for violating children's privacy law

Photo by Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images

TikTok, a short-form video app owned by Chinese tech giant Bytedance, has agreed to a $5.7 million settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for illegally collecting personal data from children.

Why it matters: It's the largest settlement from a violation of The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in the law's 20+ year history. While $5.7 million may seem small, it's significantly larger than the next biggest COPPA violation, which resulted in a $3 million settlement by Disney-owned social games studio Playdom in 2011.

Details: The complaint, filed to the FTC by the U.S. Justice Department, alleges that Musical.ly (a karaoke app that was acquired and integrated by TikTok's parent company in 2017) obtained the personal information of children under 13 years old without consent.

  • "This ruling underscores what we have long known: Companies like TikTok do not consider children’s personal information out of bounds," said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), an author of COPPA. "This fine may be an historic high for a COPPA violation, but it is not high enough for the harm that is done to children."
  • In response to the settlement, TikTok said it updated its app to include additional safety and privacy protections designed specifically for younger U.S. users.

Be smart: TikTok has built a mobile empire and is beginning to compete with the likes of Facebook for the attention of young users.

  • A new report from Digiday finds that TikTok's U.S. user base has grown to 26.5
    million monthly active users, who on average open the app 8 times for a total of 46 minutes per day.
  • New figures from data insights firm SensorTower suggest that TikTok has surpassed 1 billion downloads on iOS and Android.

Our thought bubble: While conversations around children's privacy have increased over the past year alongside the national privacy debate, this case will certainly draw even more attention to the way tech giants mine data through apps targeted to kids.

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Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 9 p.m. ET: 932,605 — Total deaths: 46,809 — Total recoveries: 193,177Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 9 p.m. ET: 213,372 — Total deaths: 4,757 — Total recoveries: 8,474Map.
  3. Business updates: Small businesses are bearing the brunt of the coronavirus job crisis.
  4. World update: Spain’s confirmed cases surpassed 100,000, and the nation saw its biggest daily death toll so far. More than 500 people were reported dead within the last 24 hours in the U.K., per Johns Hopkins.
  5. State updates: Florida and Pennsylvania are the latest states to issue stay-at-home orders — Michigan has more than 9,000 confirmed cases, an increase of 1,200 and 78 new deaths in 24 hours.
  6. Stock market updates: Stocks closed more than 4% lower on Wednesday, continuing a volatile stretch for the stock market amid the coronavirus outbreak.
  7. 1 future thing: Shifts to telemedicine, at-home diagnostics, and drone delivery are all likely lasting consequences from this pandemic.
  8. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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U.S. coronavirus updates: Confirmed cases surpass 200,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Positive cases of the novel coronavirus passed 213,000 on Wednesday — nearly twice as many as Italy, per Johns Hopkins — as more state governors issued stay-at-home orders for Americans to curb infection.

The state of play: Trump administration officials are anonymously sounding the alarm that America's emergency stockpile of personal protective equipment is running dangerously low, the Washington Post reports.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 8 mins ago - Health

World coronavirus updates: Spain's health care system overloaded

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

Two planes with protective equipment arrived to restock Spain’s overloaded public health system on Wednesday as confirmed cases surpassed 100,000 and the nation saw its biggest death toll so far, Reuters reports.

The big picture: COVID-19 cases surged past 900,000 and the global death toll surpassed 45,000 early Wednesday, per Johns Hopkins data. Italy has reported more than 12,000 deaths.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 3 hours ago - Health