Video sharing app TikTok has been fined by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for failing to protect children’s data privacy.
The company has agreed to pay a fine of $5.7 million (£4.3m) and introduce new practices to protect users under the age of 13.
TikTok was one of the most downloaded apps of 2018 and has more than one billion users worldwide. The app allows users to create short video clips and share with others.
According to the FTC, the Musical.ly app, which was acquired and combined with TikTok, hosted content published by underage users. The commission has ordered the firm to delete data held on underage users.
Recommended: Google Scientist Lined Up to Speak at Data Summit
A report compiled by the trade commission said that the Musical.ly app had more than 65 million users in the US, of which, a “large percentage” were underage.
“For the first three years, Musical.ly didn’t ask for the user’s age,” a statement by the FTC read. “Since July 2017, the company has asked about age and prevents people who say they’re under 13 from creating accounts.”
The FTC added that although age verification steps had been introduced, the company failed to ask for age details from people who had already signed up – many of which are suspected to have been, or still are, underage.
The app was contacted by more than 300 parents across a two-week period in late 2016, the FTC report showed.
Although profiles had been deleted following complaints, content posted to the platform was not deleted.
Additional measures have been introduced following the ruling, which includes age verification requirements when new users join TikTok.
“We care deeply about the safety and privacy of our users,” TikTok said. “This is an ongoing commitment, and we are continuing to expand and evolve our protective measures in support of this.”
Concerns have been raised over the company’s new measures, however. Age verification practices will not be added for UK users, along with a host of other nations.
These age verification features in the US have also drawn criticism. As with other social media platforms, age verification steps are based on trust. An underage user could still choose to lie about their date-of-birth to circumvent the verification process.
Going forward, the company said it will launch a platform for users under the age of 13 that will strip down functions and features from the official app.
“While we’ve always seen TikTok as a place for everyone, we understand the concerns that arise around younger users,” the firm said.
“In working with the FTC and in conjunction with today’s agreement, we’ve now implemented changes to accommodate youngsters US users in a limited, separate app experience that introduces additional safety and privacy protections designed specifically for the audience,” the company added.