TikTok Slapped with Hefty €345 Million Fine Over Children’s Privacy Concerns


TikTok Slapped with Hefty €345 Million Fine Over Children’s Privacy Concerns
© Getty Images News/Drew Angerer

The Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) has ordered popular social media platform TikTok to pay a whopping €345 million ($368 million) fine. The ruling came in light of the company's alleged shortcomings in protecting the privacy of children.

Failure to Uphold EU’s Privacy Standards

The DPC, the regulatory body overseeing TikTok’s operations within the European Union, announced on Friday that TikTok had infringed upon the EU’s principal privacy regulations.

After an exhaustive investigation, the Commission discovered that during the latter half of 2020, TikTok’s default configurations were considerably lax when it came to safeguarding the accounts of younger users. Disturbingly, freshly minted children’s profiles were automatically set to public, granting anyone online unrestricted access to view them.

Moreover, the DPC pointed out that TikTok didn't provide clear warnings about these privacy vulnerabilities to its younger audience. In a more troubling revelation, the regulatory body accused the social media giant of employing “dark patterns” — deceptive user interface designs — to subtly manipulate users into disclosing more personal information than they might have intended.

TikTok’s Counter Argument

Despite the significant backlash and financial penalty, TikTok was quick to express its reservations about the DPC's findings. In a detailed blog post released on Friday, the company laid out its perspective.

TikTok’s European privacy head, Elaine Fox, stated, “Most of the decision’s criticisms are no longer relevant as a result of measures we introduced at the start of 2021”. Highlighting the proactive steps TikTok took to counteract previous oversights, Fox mentioned that the platform made pivotal alterations at the beginning of 2021.

These changes ensured that all accounts, both existing and newly created, for users aged 13 to 15, would be set to private by default. Moreover, in her statement, Fox revealed future plans, saying, "we will begin rolling out a redesigned account registration flow for new 16- and 17-year-old users” which will inherently prioritize privacy settings.

While TikTok remained silent about the specifics of their "Family Pairing" feature in relation to verifying an adult’s relationship with a child, it was emphasized that the feature had continually evolved, offering enhanced tools and options.

The company staunchly defended its age verification processes, asserting that none of the DPC’s findings indicated any violation of the EU's stringent privacy regulations.