Musical.ly, the popular social media app for children known as TikTok, and the FTC recently settled allegations of violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The settled amount was $5.7 million, the largest civil penalty the agency has collected for a children’s data privacy case.
The Musical.ly app allows users to make short lip-syncing videos that can be shared on the platform. Over 200 million users have downloaded the Musical.ly app worldwide, according to the FTC, with 65 million of those accounts being in the United States.
COPPA prohibits the unauthorized or unnecessary collection of children’s personal information online by internet website operators and online services, and requires that verifiable parental consent be obtained prior to the collecting, using, and/or disclosing of personal information of children under 13.
The FTC complaint said Musical.ly received thousands of complaints from parents and knew that many of its users were under the age of 13. Still, the company did not seek the required parental consent before collecting names, email addresses and other personal information of the children.
Musical.ly accounts were also public by default, meaning that photos, videos and usernames were easily available online. Although the app allowed users to switch their account settings from public to private, profiles could still be viewed, and users could still be contacted via direct message. In 2016, the company also added a feature that allowed users to view other users within a 50-mile radius of their location.
Additionally, among other things, the FTC complaint alleged Musical.ly failed to (1) provide notice on their site of the information they collect online from children, how they use it, and their disclosure practices (2) provide direct notice to parents and (3) get consent from parents before collecting personal information from children.
Under the settlement, in addition to the monetary amount, Musical.ly will have to comply with the COPPA Rule and take down all videos made by children under the age of 13. Additionally, the app will now split experiences for those over and under 13 years of age.
FTC Commissioners Chopra and Slaughter issued a joint statement calling the settlement “a big win in the fight to protect children’s privacy.” The settlement shows the FTC will strictly enforce COPPA, and companies that have actual knowledge that children under 13 are using their products or services must adhere to COPPA’s parental consent requirements.