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FTC slaps lip-syncing app with huge fine in COPPA case

By Demri Scott | March 06, 2019

As the internet has grown and become increasingly more connected, more and more troves of data are being collected on the websites and apps we use every day. With this data collected, there is a growing concern for consumer data privacy online. 

With the privacy debate heating up, the Federal Trade Commission announced that Music.ly, the app now known as TikTok, will receive a $5.7 million fine for infringing on the children’s privacy law, COPPA. The fine is the largest monetary settlement the FTC has imposed in a COPPA case.

The app allows users to make their own lip-synced videos to music and to share them with other users. The problem is that, according to the FTC complaint, the operators of the app knew that many users were under 13 and failed to notify parents about the app’s data collection or obtain parental consent before collecting and using the data.

Thousands of parents reached out to the app claiming they didn’t give consent for the app to collect data on their children.

The FTC outlined other privacy violations including an in-app feature that was available until October 2016 that allowed users to view other users, including minors, within a 50-mile radius of their location. The app also was set default to public and the FTC found many recorded instances of adults reaching out to minors.

Going forward, the FTC directed the app to remove all videos of children under 13 years old and to abide by the COPPA rule to notify parents about the app’s collection and use of personal information from users under 13 years old.

Parents ultimately should have the final say in whether a company can collect data on their children. While we’re not going to prevent all bad actors, the case makes it clear that the FTC has many tools at their disposal in addressing privacy concerns when it comes to children. But, at the end the day we will need a federal privacy law that creates more certainty for Americans in protecting their data, regardless of if they are adults or minors.

COPPA sets guidelines on data collection of children under 13 years old which requires websites that have underage users to ask for parental consent before collecting data. COPPA covers personal information such as a full name, home, social security number, photo or video of a child under 13 years old. 

We’re in a world where companies collect a lot of data online but thankfully there are safeguards in place to protect children online.

Photo Credit: Faungg