Article by Aidan O’Sullivan
In a turn of events that has only fueled the narrative of privacy issues on social media
platforms, EU regulators have fined TikTok $368 million on September 15th due to Europe’s
rigorous policies surrounding children’s data security and safety. Ireland’s Data Protection
Commission (DPC), the leading regulator in privacy for Big tech within Europe,
recently stated that these fines were being issued from violations dating back over a three-year
investigation since 2020.
According to a recent DPC study, many young European TikTok users’ accounts had
been set to “public” as their default setting. In consequence, this made user posts and information
accessible to the general public, many of whom were children under the age of 13. According to the DPC,
TikTok failed to check that the individual whose account was linked to the child’s account via
the family pairing tool was the child’s actual parent. In addition, as part of
the family pairing feature, adults have the ability to turn on direct messaging for users aged
16-17 without their awareness due to a lack of privacy protection. As a result, when signing up
for the app and sharing content, child users are more vulnerable to privacy invasion. Not only did
TikTok fail to offer sufficient privacy information to young users, but it also employed unethical
algorithmic tendencies to urge users to adopt more privacy-invasive options.
When looking at the patterns TikTok has been implementing, the European Data
Protection Board (EDPB) found specific examples of TikTok subtly urging users to lean
towards more public accounts and usage of the app. The EDPB highlighted that due to the specific
placement of buttons on the registration screen, child users were urged to click certain buttons
and create public accounts. This is seen in various other examples found by the EDPB in which
TikTok has presented choices to its users in an unfair manner. And, while TikTok is disputing the
level of fine levied by the DPC, they are preparing a platform redesign in the coming month.
Aside from the fine, the DPC has given TikTok three months to rectify the platform’s problems before facing more penalties. TikTok will soon have 17-and-under users pre-set to a private account, and no longer provide adults access or control of child users’ direct messaging feature. TikTok has recently announced that in the next year, they plan to implement a Global Youth Council in an effort to turn a new leaf and provide support for its young users across the world.