Archive for February, 2019

Social Networking App to pay $5.7 M Fine in COPPA Case

Posted by fgilbert on February 27th, 2019

On February 27, 2019, the operators of the video social networking app Musical.ly, now known as Tik Tok agreed to pay a $5.7 million fine to settle allegations by the Federal Trade Commission that the company illegally collected personal information from children.[1]This amount is the largest one ever obtained by the FTC in a children’s privacy case.
The app was widely used. Since 2014, 65 million accounts have been registered in the United States and more than 200 million worldwide. The complaint[2]noted that the app operators were aware that a significant percentage of users were younger than 13 and had received thousands of complaints from parents that their children under 13 had created accounts.
In its complaint, the FTC alleged that Musical.ly violated COPPA and the COPPA Rule[3]by failing to notify parents about the collection and use of personal information from users under 13, failing to obtain parental consent before such collection and use, and failing to delete personal information at the request of parents.
To register, users had to provide first and last name, user name, a short biography, and a profile picture, as well as an email address and phone number. The app allowed users to create short videos lip-syncing to music and share those videos with other users.  It also allowed users to interact with other users by commenting on their videos and sending direct messages.
According to the complaint, user accounts were public by default; a child’s profile bio, username, picture, and videos could be seen by other users. While the site allowed users to change their default setting from public to private so that only approved users could follow them, users’ profile pictures and bios remained public, and users could still send them direct messages. The complaint noted that there had been public reports of adults trying to contact children through the app.
Among other things, the settlement includes a $5.7 million fine, an obligation to take offline all videos made by children under the age of 13, and an ongoing obligation to comply with COPPA.[4]

[1]Settlement Order available at https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/cases/musical.ly_proposed_order_ecf_2-27-19.pdf.
[2]Complaint available at: https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/cases/musical.ly_complaint_ecf_2-27-19.pdf
[3]COPPA Rule available at: https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/rules/rulemaking-regulatory-reform-proceedings/childrens-online-privacy-protection-rule.
[4]Settlement Order available at https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/cases/musical.ly_proposed_order_ecf_2-27-19.pdf.