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UK Could Fine TikTok up to $29M over Child Privacy Issues

    UK Could Fine TikTok up to $29M over Child Privacy Issues
    Last updated: 2 months ago
    Image credit: Nurphoto/Getty Images [via CNBC]

    Facts

    • The UK Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has issued China-based social media company TikTok a notice of intent - with a potential fine of $29M - regarding a "provisional view that TikTok breached UK data protection law between May 2018 and July 2020." [1]
    • The ICO alleged that TikTok had processed the data of children under 13 without parental consent, including special category data such as sexual orientation, religious beliefs, political beliefs, and information about ethnic or racial origin. [2]
    • The UK has the power to fine companies - under the General Data Protection Regulation or the Data Protection Act - $19M, or 4% of their global revenue. TikTok made roughly $4B last year and is set to triple that in 2022. [2]
    • The new child-specific data protection laws, known as the Children's Code, were put in place in September of last year, with Information Commissioner John Edwards saying they are currently investigating "how over 50 online services are conforming" to the code. [3]
    • Edwards also said, "We all want children to be able to learn and experience the digital world," with the ICO further stating that "no conclusion should be drawn at this stage that there has...been any breach of data protection law" by TikTok. The company has 30 days to respond. [1]
    • TikTok was also fined $5.7M by the US Federal Trade Commission in 2019 and by South Korea for similar reasons. The US Senate Commerce Committee last July voted to raise the age that children are given privacy protections to 16. [4]
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    Spin

    Pro-establishment narrative

    Though only provisional, this letter of intent is a sign that powerful tech companies can be held accountable through legislative means. With the Children's Code in place now for a year, the UK government has the opportunity to prove its commitment to protecting the safety and privacy of its youth through responsible regulation.

    Establishment-critical narrative

    This attempt to regulate big tech could end up dying on the vine. Since this "provisional" investigation included no specific accusations, it could lead to nothing. The $29M fine is only what the company could potentially be fined and, after it provides its counter-argument, TikTok may walk away relatively unscathed. There may be very little to see here in the end.

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