Creators of the lip-syncing app Musical.ly, now known as TikTok, have agreed to pay the Federal Trade Commission a $5.7m settlement after the app allegedly collected children’s information without parental consent. This is the largest amount ever paid to the FTC in a case regarding children’s privacy laws.
According to the FTC’s official complaint, Musical.ly violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), after the app failed to receive parental consent before collecting personal information concerning users under the age of 13.
“The operators of Musical.ly—now known as TikTok—knew many children were using the app but they still failed to seek parental consent before collecting names, email addresses, and other personal information from users under the age of 13,” said FTC chairman Joe Simons. “This record penalty should be a reminder to all online services and websites that target children: We take enforcement of COPPA very seriously, and we will not tolerate companies that flagrantly ignore the law.”
Musical.ly enabled users to record short clips of them lip-singing, then share the video on their feed, or send comments and direct messages to other users. By default, profiles were made public, but could be switched to private mode through the app’s setting. However, users who set their profiles to private still had viewable pictures, bios, and could be send direct messages.
According to the FTC’s complaint, there had been official reports made stating adults had been using the app to contact children. Musical.ly also allowed users to see who else was on the app within a 50-mile radius of their current location, until October 2016.
The FTC noted that Musical.ly operators were fully aware that a “significant” amount of their users were under 13, and had also received thousands complaints from parents regarding their children’s accounts.
Along with paying the $5.7m fine to the FTC, Musical.ly operators must comply to COPPA regulations from now on, and immediately remove any videos made by children under 13.