Video Social Networking App Musical.ly (Now Known as TikTok) Agrees to Settle FTC Allegations that it Violated Children’s Privacy Law Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)
From the Federal Trade Commission:
The operators of the video social networking app Musical.ly, now known as TikTok, have agreed to pay $5.7 million to settle Federal Trade Commission allegations that the company illegally collected personal information from children. This is the largest civil penalty ever obtained by the Commission in a children’s privacy case.
The FTC’s complaint, filed by the Department of Justice on behalf of the Commission, alleges that Musical.ly violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which requires that websites and online services directed to children obtain parental consent before collecting personal information from children under the age of 13.
The Musical.ly app allowed users to create short videos lip-syncing to music and share those videos with other users. To register for the app, it required users to provide an email address, phone number, username, first and last name, a short biography, and a profile picture. Since 2014, more than 200 million users have downloaded the Musical.ly app worldwide, while 65 million accounts have been registered in the United States.
In addition to creating and sharing videos, the app allowed users to interact with other users by commenting on their videos and sending direct messages. User accounts were public by default, which meant that a child’s profile bio, username, picture, and videos could be seen by other users. While the site allowed users to change their default setting from public to private so that only approved users could follow them, users’ profile pictures and bios remained public, and users could still send them direct messages, according to the complaint. In fact, as the complaint notes, there have been public reports of adults trying to contact children via the Musical.ly app. In addition, until October 2016, the app included a feature that allowed users to view other users within a 50-mile radius of their location.
The operators of the Musical.ly app were aware that a significant percentage of users were younger than 13 and received thousands of complaints from parents that their children under 13 had created Musical.ly accounts, according to the FTC’s complaint.
The complaint alleges that the operators of the Musical.ly app violated the COPPA Rule by failing to notify parents about the app’s collection and use of personal information from users under 13, obtain parental consent before such collection and use, and delete personal information at the request of parents.
In addition to the monetary payment, the settlement also requires the app’s operators to comply with COPPA going forward and to take offline all videos made by children under the age of 13.
The Commission vote to authorize the staff to refer the complaint to the Department of Justice and to approve the proposed consent decree was 5-0. Commissioner Rohit Chopra and Commissioner Rebecca Kelly Slaughter issued a separate statement.
Direct to Complete Statement
Direct to Stipulated Order
25 pages; PDF.
Direct to Complaint
11 pages; PDF.
About Gary Price
Gary Price (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. He earned his MLIS degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Price has won several awards including the SLA Innovations in Technology Award and Alumnus of the Year from the Wayne St. University Library and Information Science Program. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com. Gary is also the co-founder of infoDJ an innovation research consultancy supporting corporate product and business model teams with just-in-time fact and insight finding.