TikTok was slapped with a nearly $370 million (345 million euros) fine Friday by Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC), which determined the social media platform violated several European Union privacy laws in its handling of children’s data.
The DPC said its investigation into how TikTok processed children’s data from July 31, 2020, to Dec. 31, 2020, found the app owned by Beijing-based Bytedance deserved a reprimand, an order to bring its processing into compliance within a three-month period and the hefty fine.
The DPC is the lead regulator in the EU for many global tech firms due to the location of its regional headquarters in Ireland, and the regulator said TikTok’s breaches included how in 2020 accounts for users under the age of 16 were set to “public” by default and that TikTok did not verify whether a user was actually a child user’s parent or guardian when linked through the “family pairing” feature.
A spokesperson for TikTok said it disagreed with the decision, particularly the size of the fine, and that most of the criticisms are no longer relevant as a result of measures it introduced before the DPC’s probe began in September 2021.
TikTok added tougher parental controls to family pairing in November 2020 and changed the default setting for all registered users under the age of 16 to “private” in January 2021.
The company said Friday it plans to further update its privacy materials to make the differences between public and private accounts clearer and that a private account will be pre-selected for new 16- and 17-year-old users when they register for the app later this month.
The EU has stringent data privacy laws, and the DPC is aggressive in cracking down on tech firms over breaches. Last year, the watchdog fined Meta $276 million after a half billion Facebook users’ data was leaked online. It fined Meta’s chat service, WhatsApp, 225 million euros the year before for violating rules on sharing people’s data with other Meta companies.
This is the first fine the DPC has issued against TikTok, and the regulator is carrying out a second probe into TikTok over whether its transfer of personal data to China complies with EU law.
TikTok is under heavy scrutiny in the U.S. over concerns that American users’ data could end up in the hands of the Chinese government, and the app is banned on devices owned by the federal government due to national security concerns.
Most states also prohibit the use of TikTok on government-owned devices, and Montana issued a statewide ban set to go into effect in January that is being challenged in court.
Reuters contributed to this report.