Success often comes at a price. For the company behind the video clip app TikTok, that price just so happens to be in the form of a record fine.
According to a Feb. 27 Federal Trade Commission statement, the app formerly known as Musical.ly illegally collected data from children under the age of 13, and as a result was hit with a $5.7 million civil penalty.
“The operators of Musical.ly, now known as TikTok, knew 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,” FTC Chairman Joe Simons said in a statement.
The app, which has been downloaded 1 billion times, is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance and is responsible for the proliferation of bizarre lip-synching (and finger eating) videos in your Twitter feed. TikTok is not exactly a Vine replacement, but rather represents an evolution in the looping-video genre. As a testament to its success, Facebook tried to rip off TikTok with a viral clip app of its own.
Importantly, when TikTok was just starting under the name Musical.ly, profiles were set as public by default. According to the FTC, even if a profile was set to private, strangers could still DM the account in question. You can imagine how this might be problematic if, say, a Musical.ly, account belonged to an 11-year-old.
"In fact, as the complaint notes, there have been public reports of adults trying to contact children via the Musical.ly app," notes the FTC press release. "In addition, until October 2016, the app included a feature that allowed users to view other users within a 50-mile radius of their location."
That's not good.
In what is likely not a coincidence, TikTok tweeted a video today showing users how to turn off DMs altogether.
TikTok Tips: chat ONLY with the people you know 💬 pic.twitter.com/MLKhYzAkxR
— TikTok (@tiktok_us) February 27, 2019
The company also announced a "separate app experience" that comes with extra privacy protections for young users.
"Beginning today, this additional app experience now allows us to split users into age-appropriate TikTok environments, in line with FTC guidance for mixed audience apps," reads a company press release. "The new environment for younger users does not permit the sharing of personal information, and it puts extensive limitations on content and user interaction."
Of course, TikTok's newfound dedication to keeping children off its platform is running into a few glitches. In some cases, TikTok is requesting that newly locked-out users submit copies of their government issued ID to prove their true age.
Just another day in viral-video app paradise.