If Microsoft or another company is buying TikTok Before President Trump bans the Chinese-owned video app for national security reasons, it will acquire a huge community of dedicated fans and a lucrative platform for selling ads.
It could also buy something else: a large number of users under the age of 14. The minimum age for using TikTok is 13 years.
In July, TikTok rated more than a third of its 49 million daily users in the US as 14 years of age or under, according to internal company records and documents verified by the New York Times. While some of these users are likely 13 or 14 years old, a former employee said that TikTok staff had previously pointed out videos of children who appeared to be younger and who were allowed to stay online for weeks.
The number of users TikTok believes are under 13 raises questions about whether the company is doing enough to keep them safe. In the United States, the Children’s Online Privacy Act requires Internet platforms to obtain parental consent before they can collect personal information from children under the age of 13. The operators of Musical.ly, an app that was merged in TikTok in 2018, paid a $ 5.7 million fine last year to clarify the Federal Trade Commission’s allegations that it violated these rules.
TikTok declined to comment on the user numbers. When asked about the safety of younger users, a company representative referred to measures such as Parents allow control What do their teenagers see in the app and how much time can they spend on it?
TikTok and its owner, Chinese social media giant ByteDance, were in the Trump administration crosshairswho fears the app may help the Chinese Communist Party obtain private information from Americans. Mr Trump this month announced his support for Microsoft or another American company to purchase TikTok’s US operations in an effort to address security concerns.
However, any deal for TikTok would have buyers grappling with not only political pressures, but issues that can become difficult on all social media platforms, including content guidelines, data collection practices, and child safety measures. The app’s large audience with young fans makes it a great attraction for advertisers, but also invites you to examine the data protection regulations more closely.
TikTok asks for a date of birth when users register an account. In the US, those who claim to be under 13 are only allowed to use a locked mode within the app where they cannot share personal information or videos. However, there are concerns that some users under the age of 13 may lie to circumvent the age restrictions and that the platform may not get the required parental consent of those users.
Bill Gates, recently co-founder of Microsoft told Wired Magazine that TikTok was a “cup of poison” for every buyer in terms of its complexity.
“Getting big in the social media business is not an easy game,” he said.
TikTok data seen by The Times shows that the number of daily US users in July, which the company estimated to be 14 or younger – 18 million – was almost as high as the number of 14+ users, about 20 million. The rest of TikTok’s US users have been classified as unknown.
TikTok doesn’t just rely on users’ self-reported birth dates to categorize them into age groups. Two former TikTok employees and one current employee who refused to be identified because details of the company’s business practices are confidential estimate their ages using other methods, including facial recognition algorithms that verify profile pictures and videos.
Another way TikTok estimates users’ ages is to compare their activities and social connections on the app with those of users whose ages have already been estimated. The company can also refer to information about users purchased from other sources.
In a statement, TikTok said, “As is customary in our industry,” the company is “conducting high-level age modeling to better understand our users and enable our security team to better protect the safety of our younger teenagers in particular.”
TikTok primarily uses the classification system to inform the company strategy according to the information provided by the knowledgeable people. TikTok’s policy teams use the numbers to create rules that moderators must follow, such as deciding what to do when an underage user communicates with an adult through the app.
One of the former employees who left TikTok this year said the app did not use the classifications to automatically restrict or remove videos from users under the age of 13, or to get permission from those users’ parents or guardians.
This begs the question of whether TikTok is responsible for responding to what it knows about anyone under the age of 13, especially given last year’s F.T.C. Fine for violating the Federal Children’s Online Data Protection Act.
The law stipulates that Internet services that “actually know” that a visitor is under 13 must obtain parental consent or delete the user’s personal information. The F.T.C. said on his website For example, this knowledge could come from a child’s online posting information revealing their age or from notifying affected parents to the platform that their child is using it.
However, critics have argued that this standard creates an incentive for online platforms to purposely ignore the question of whether their visitors are minors.
Josh Golin, the executive director of the Advocacy Campaign for an Ad-Free Childhood, said TikTok has a duty to investigate whether its own systems suggest that so many users may be under 13.
“I would argue that if their systems indicated to them that a user is likely under 13, that they have passed the point of burying their head in the sand, and that their legal obligation is in place,” said he.
Angela J. Campbell, a law professor at Georgetown University who serves on the advocacy board, said, “You might argue, well, they’re not one hundred percent sure” that these users are under 13. “But you will never go 100 percent sure. Given that there are so many under 14, it seems inconceivable to me that they could even claim they don’t know. “
In May, the Ad-Free Childhood Campaign was one of 20 groups that did complained to the F.T.C.and said that TikTok was disregarding its agreement with the agency.
According to The Times, TikTok’s youthful demographics in the US are mirrored in Western Europe, where the app is also popular.
In the UK, the proportion of daily users classified as 14 or younger was 43 percent this spring, the data shows. In Germany the share was over 35 percent and in France in February 45 percent.
Those proportions may have dropped as TikTok grew in popularity. As of June 2019, almost half of daily users in the US were estimated to be 14 years of age or under, according to internal data. The share in Germany this month was around 40 percent.
Like the United States, the European Union requires online services to obtain parental consent to process children’s data. The agency that coordinates the enforcement of the European Union’s data protection rules announced in June that this is the case Conduct a review of TikTok’s practices. The French and UK data protection officers have also said they are investigating the app.