Massively popular short-form video app TikTok has a grip on young users thanks to its mix of music and memes -- but the way the app uses kids' data is causing concern in the U.K.
TikTok is now under investigation by the U.K. Information Commissioner’s Office, which is looking into how the app collects and uses children's data. According to The Guardian, information commissioner Elizabeth Denham told a parliamentary committee earlier this week that the investigation began in February, right after the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fined TikTok's owner, Chinese firm Bytedance, $5.7 million for similar violations.
The office is now investigating generally how private data is collected on TikTok, as well as specific concerns about TikTok's open messaging system, which could allow adults to direct message underage users. The investigation will determine whether the company is violating the E.U.'s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which requires special protection of children's personal data.
“We are looking at the transparency tools for children,” Denham said on Tuesday (July 3). "We're looking at the messaging system, which is completely open, we’re looking at the kind of videos that are collected and shared by children online. We do have an active investigation into TikTok right now, so watch this space."
ByteDance faces a fine of up to $23 million (€20m) or 4 percent of revenue -- whichever is higher -- if it is found to be violating the GDPR.
In a statement provided to Billboard, a spokesperson for TikTok said that "we are committed to protecting the safety and privacy of our user community."
The FTC's investigation concluded in February that the app violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act by failing to seek parental consent before collecting personal information from users under 13. The same month, TikTok launched a new safety video series educating users on how to make an account private, enable comment controls and "treat everyone like fam."
In April, the Indian government ordered Google and Apple to suspend the app due similar safety concerns.
Meanwhile, the app formerly known as Musical.ly is amid negotiations to renew contracts with major labels and publishers, as it continues to drive music on the charts. Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road," which got a jump-start off TikTok memes, just logged its 13th week atop the Hot 100. ByteDance is reportedly valued at $75 billion.