TikTok faces investigation into alleged child privacy violations

The icon for the video sharing TikTok app is seen on a smartphone, 28 February, 2023, in Marple Township, Pa (The Associated Press)
The icon for the video sharing TikTok app is seen on a smartphone, 28 February, 2023, in Marple Township, Pa (The Associated Press)

TikTok is facing a fresh investigation in the US into potential violations of children’s privacy.

A complaint about alleged violations of children’s privacy was referred by the Federal Trade Commission to the Justice Department on Tuesday.

The new investigation comes just days ahead of an expected legal challenge from TikTok over a law passed in April that requires its Chinese-parent ByteDance to divest the social media app’s US assets by January 19 or face a ban.

In March, a source told Reuters the FTC could resolve a probe into TikTok over allegedly faulty privacy and data security practices by either filing suit or reaching a settlement.

“The investigation uncovered reason to believe named defendants are violating or are about to violate the law and that a proceeding is in the public interest, so the Commission has voted to refer a complaint to the Department of Justice,” the FTC said in a statement.

Reuters in 2020 first reported the FTC and the US Justice Department were looking into allegations the popular social media app failed to live up to a 2019 agreement aimed at protecting children’s privacy.

“Although the Commission does not typically make public the fact that it has referred a complaint, we have determined that doing so here is in the public interest,” the statement continued, without giving details.

TikTok said Tuesday it has been working with the FTC for more than a year to address the agency’s concerns.

“We’re disappointed the agency is pursuing litigation instead of continuing to work with us on a reasonable solution,” TikTok said.

“We strongly disagree with the FTC’s allegations, many of which relate to past events and practices that are factually inaccurate or have been addressed.”

The probe is separate from ongoing concerns in Congress about the potential that the data of TikTok’s 170 million US users could be improperly accessed by the Chinese government.

TikTok denies the allegation.

Additional reporting from agencies.