The company behind the popular lip-sync video app Musical.ly, now known as TikTok, has agreed to settle with the Federal Trade Commission for $5.7 million for allegedly violating children’s online privacy.
In the FTC’s complaint, they claim the app knowingly took personal information from children under the age of 13, including names, email addresses, phone numbers and more, without parental consent.
This allegation is a violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which requires parental consent before websites and online services can take personal information from children under 13.
Users of the Musical.ly (now TikTok) app can create short, lip-syncing videos and share those videos with other app users. The app allows users to interact through comments and direct messages.
To register for the app, users are required to provide an email address, phone number, username, first and last name, a short biography and a profile picture.
Over 200 million users have downloaded the app worldwide since 2014, and 65 million of those accounts are registered in the United States, according to the FTC.
The accounts are public by default, per the FTC’s complaint. While the app allows users to make their accounts private, the users’ profile pictures and bios are still public and other users can still message them.
The complaint states there have been reports of adults trying to contact children via the Musical.ly app.
In addition, until October 2016, the complaint states the app included a feature that allowed users to view other users within a 50-mile radius of their location.
The complaint alleges the operators of the Musical.ly app knew there were a significant percentage of users that were younger than 13 and received thousands of complaints from parents that their children under 13 had created Musical.ly accounts — but did nothing.
According to the FTC, the settlement also requires the app’s operators to comply with COPPA going forward and to take offline all videos made by children under the age of 13, in addition to the monetary penalty.
The FTC says the settlement is the largest civil penalty they’ve ever obtained in a children’s privacy case.