Video sharing app TikTok is being investigated by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) amid claims that children and young people could be put at risk by using the app.
The app, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, lets users create and upload short, 15-second video clips of themselves other others – which can then be edited to include special effects, filters and audio clips. Concerns have been raised previously by child safety groups that young people could be exposed to harmful content through the app.
Speaking to MPs from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee, Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said the regulator will examine which “kind of videos that are collected and shared by children online”.
Denham added that the ICO will assess whether the app’s messaging system, which is “completely open”, could also be placing young users at risk.
“We are looking at the transparency tools for children, we’re looking at the messaging system, which is completely open,” she told MPs. “We’re looking at the kind of videos that are collected and shared by children online, so we do have an active investigation into TikTok.”
TikTok is one of the most popular social media apps in the world right now, with more than one billion downloads globally and 500 million active users – many of whom are children and young people. Earlier this year, the company was fined £4.5 million by the US Federal Trade Commission after it was revealed the app was collecting information on children under the age of 13.
The FTC said the fine was the “largest civil penalty ever obtained” by the commission in a children’s privacy case. A report compiled by the trade commission highlighted that the app had more than 65 million users in the US, of which, a “large percentage” were underage.
The app has set a minimum age for users. However, FTC chairman, Joe Simons said at the time that the app failed to implement adequate verification measures to prevent kids under the minimum threshold from using the app.
“The operators of Musical.ly – 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,” he said.