The Italian data protection authority has ordered the video-sharing application TikTok to temporarily block the accounts of users whose age cannot be verified. The warrant was issued following the death of a TikTok-related trend of “fainting resistance”. In the city of Palermo, a 10-year-old girl drowned while trying to shoot a video similar to the trend she saw on TikTok. Her parents had informed authorities that their daughter had died in connection with this trend in TikTok. Authorities are investigating whether anyone invited the girl to this challenge.
The Italian data protection authority ordered TikTok to block unverified users in Italy until at least February 15th. The company told The Guardian it could not find content on its platform that would encourage the boy to participate in the challenge, but said it did cooperate with the investigation. Additionally, a TikTok spokesperson told The Verge, “Privacy and security are top priorities for TikTok, and we are constantly strengthening our policies, processes, and technologies to protect all users, especially our young users.” made the explanation.
The terms of service require users to be at least 13 years old to sign up for an account on TikTok. However, Italian officials said it was easy to get around this rule. TikTok has a separate version of its app for children under 13 in the US. The TikTok application for young users aims to limit the content and interaction available to users of this age segment.
While its popularity has skyrocketed, TikTok has spent most of the past year adding more privacy controls to young users’ accounts. It brought remote parental controls and allowed parents to change children’s privacy settings in the app. Earlier this month, TikTok updated its default privacy settings for users ages 13 to 15, setting limits on who can view and comment on their videos.
However, those who defend children’s privacy argue that TikTok is not doing enough to protect children on its platform. Beijing-based parent company ByteDance paid the U.S. Federal Trade Commission a $ 5.7 million fine in 2019 for an old TikTok version called Musical.ly. The penalty was imposed on allegations of violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Act (COPPA) by allowing users under the age of 13 to register for the app without parental consent.
The temporary suspension of unverified accounts in Italy prohibits TikTok from “further processing the data of users whose age is not absolute, and thus the age requirements provisions”.