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TikTok could face $29M British fine for 'failing to protect children's privacy'

A TikTok app is seen on the tablet in Shanghai, China, in August 2020. File Photo by Alex Plavevski/EPA-EFE
A TikTok app is seen on the tablet in Shanghai, China, in August 2020. File Photo by Alex Plavevski/EPA-EFE

Sept. 26 (UPI) -- TikTok could face a $29 million fine for "failing to protect children's privacy" in violation of Britain's data protection laws, British regulators said Monday.

The Information Commissioner's Office, an independent authority aimed at upholding data rights, said in a news release that it had slapped the Chinese-owned company with a "notice of intent" that precedes a potential fine.

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The regulators said that an investigation conducted by the office found TikTok, a wildly popular video-sharing platform, processed the data of children under age 13 without parental consent between May 2018 and July 2020.

TikTok also may have "failed to provide proper information its users in a concise, transparent and easily understood way," according to the commissioner's office.

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Additionally, TikTok may have processed "special category data" including ethnic and racial origin, political opinions, religious beliefs, sexual orientation and even genetic and biometric data without the legal grounds to do so.

"We all want children to be able to learn and experience the digital world, but with proper data privacy protections. Companies providing digital services have a legal duty to put those protections in place," Information Commissioner John Edwards said in a statement.

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"I've been clear that our work to better protect children online involves working with organizations but will also involve enforcement action where necessary."

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Edwards said the commissioner's office also is looking into how more than 50 different online services "are conforming with the children's code."

He added that regulators have six ongoing investigations into companies "who haven't, in our initial view, taken their responsibilities around child safety seriously enough."

In the statement, office added that its findings are "provisional" and that "no conclusion should be drawn at this stage" that data protection laws had in fact been breached.

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A TikTok spokesperson said in a statement to CNBC that the company disagrees with the preliminary views from the report and intends to file a response, which must be made within 30 days.

"While we respect the ICO's role in safeguarding privacy in the UK, we disagree with the preliminary views expressed and intend to formally respond to the ICO in due course," the TikTok statement reads.

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