Ireland’s regulatory authorities have imposed a substantial €345 million (£296 million) fine on TikTok for breaching children’s privacy rights. The investigation centered on TikTok’s handling of children’s data in 2020, particularly in the context of age verification and privacy settings.
This fine represents the largest penalty TikTok has faced from regulators to date. In response, a spokesperson from the social media company expressed their disagreement with the decision, particularly the magnitude of the fine. They pointed out that many of the criticisms were related to features and settings that were in place three years ago, which TikTok had subsequently modified. For instance, they highlighted that all accounts of users under the age of 16 are now set to private by default.
The fine was issued by Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) under the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a comprehensive privacy law governing data handling by companies. The DPC investigation revealed that TikTok had not been adequately transparent with children regarding their privacy settings and raised concerns about how their data was being processed.
Helen Dixon, the Data Protection Commissioner, explained that the inquiry found that accounts created by individuals aged between 13 and 17 were automatically set to public upon registration, making the content they shared visible to anyone. This design choice was deemed to have violated the GDPR’s requirements for data protection by design and default.
TikTok has been given a three-month deadline to bring its data processing practices into full compliance with GDPR standards.
Professor Sonia Livingstone, a researcher specializing in children’s digital rights and experiences at the London School of Economics and Political Science, welcomed the DPC’s decision. She emphasized that children deserve to participate in the digital world without being exploited or manipulated, emphasizing the importance of platforms explaining how they treat data and treating that data fairly, as privacy is a fundamental right for children.
An ongoing investigation is also examining whether TikTok unlawfully transferred data from the EU to China. TikTok is owned by the Beijing-based company ByteDance.