TikTok has been fined £12.7 million ($15.9 million) for illegally collecting and misusing children’s data.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) revealed that about 1.4 million U.K. children under 13 used the app in 2020. However, TikTok’s guidelines prohibit adolescents that young from accessing the platform. The short-form video app’s latest run-in with regulators is part of a growing trend of scrutiny from Western countries.
“There are laws in place to make sure our children are […] safe in the digital world,” said Commissioner John Edwards. “TikTok did not abide by those laws.”
The ICO alleges TikTok knew how many kids used the app, which isn’t surprising. TechCrunch reports Tiktok surpassed YouTube in 2020 as the top app children spent time on throughout the day. And the platform has retained the top spot in the few years since then. And according to Business Insider, 18 million users, about a third of its userbase, are children ages 14 or younger.
However, TikTok disagrees with the fine and has a round-the-clock team keeping kids off the platform. “We invest heavily to help keep under 13s off the platform,” said TikTok in a statement. “And our 40,000-strong safety team works around the clock to help keep the platform safe for our community.”
The £12.7 million fine is less than half of the original £27 million penalty the ICO levied initially. TikTok originally faced additional charges, including breaching “special category data” laws, but convinced the regulator to drop said penalties. According to the ICO, special category data is sensitive information that requires extra protection, such as biometric data.
“We took into consideration the representations from TikTok and decided not to pursue the provisional finding,” said an ICO spokesperson. “That does not mean that the use of special category data […] is not of importance to the ICO,” TechCrunch added.