U.S. senators urge probe of TikTok on children’s privacy

FILE PHOTO: A TikTok logo is displayed on a smartphone in this illustration taken January 6, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Four U.S. senators, including a China hawk, urged the Federal Trade Commission on Friday to investigate allegations that the popular video app TikTok violated a consent decree protecting children’s privacy.

In their letter, lawmakers noted a report by the Center for Digital Democracy, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and others saying that Chinese-owned TikTok had failed to take down videos made by children under age 13 as it agreed under a 2019 consent agreement with the FTC.

In addition, the report said, TikTok failed to provide parents with “direct notice” of data practices before collecting information on children and did not put a link to its privacy policy on its home page, as required under the U.S. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

“Faced with compelling evidence that this wildly popular social media platform is blatantly flouting binding U.S. privacy rules, the FTC should move swiftly to launch an investigation and forcefully hold violators accountable,” said the letter, which was signed by Democratic Senators Ed Markey, an author of COPPA, and Richard Blumenthal.

It was also signed by Republican Senators Josh Hawley, a critic of big social media and China, and Marsha Blackburn.

A TikTok spokeswoman said in an email that the company “takes the issue of safety seriously for all our users, and we continue to further strengthen our safeguards and introduce new measures to protect young people on the app.”

Fourteen Democrats on the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee have also urged the FTC in a letter to open a probe of TikTok.

Two Republicans on the same committee wrote to TikTok itself to press for information about its collection of information about children and ties to the Chinese government. The letter was addressed to Zhang Yiming, founder and chief executive of TikTok owner ByteDance.

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