Musical.ly, the popular social media app for children that is now known as TikTok, illegally took personal information from kids without parental consent, the Federal Trade Commission said Wednesday.
TikTok settled a case with the FTC for $5.7 million, the largest civil penalty the agency has collected for a children's data-privacy case.
Users of Musical.ly can make short videos lip-syncing to music that they can share with other people on the platform. More than 200 million users have downloaded the Musical.ly app worldwide, according to the FTC, and 65 million of those accounts are in the United States.
The FTC complaint said Musical.ly received thousands of complaints from parents and knew that many of its users were under the age of 13, yet the company did not seek parental consent before collecting names, email addresses and other personal information.
Musical.ly accounts were public by default, meaning that photos, videos and usernames were easily available online. While the company allowed users to toggle their account settings from public to private, profiles could still be viewed and users could still be contacted via direct message. In 2016, the company also added a feature that allowed users to view other users within a 50-mile radius of their location.
The FTC complaint notes "there have been public reports of adults trying to contact children via the Musical.ly app."
Under the settlement, Musical.ly will have to comply with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act and take down all videos made by children under the age of 13.
TikTok responded to the settlement, saying that it has started a "limited, separate app experience" this week allowing the company to "split users into age-appropriate TikTok environments." Young users now will not be permitted to share videos, message users or maintain a profile or followers.
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