FTC and Justice Department reportedly investigate TikTok

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U.S. investigations of TikTok gather steam.
U.S. investigations of TikTok gather steam.
Photo: Kon Karampelas/Unsplash CC

Both the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department launched probes into allegations that TikTok breached an agreement regarding child-privacy protections, Reuters reported Wednesday.

News of the investigations follows a story earlier this week claiming the U.S. government might ban TikTok for security reasons.

TikTok, a wildly popular social video app owned by Chinese company ByteDance, previously faced accusations of breaking child-protection laws. One complaint involved an earlier version of the app that allowed kids under 13 to open accounts. Another took issue with the way TikTok made user data, such as profile images and location, public even for private accounts. TikTok incurred a fine in the first instance. And it agreed that it would fix the privacy problem in the second.

According to today’s report from Reuters, it’s this 2019 agreement that is being investigated. The story doesn’t name names, but cites “two people interviewed by the agencies.” A spokesperson for TikTok says the company takes “safety seriously for all our users.”

Possible TikTok ban on the horizon?

Speaking this week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took issue with TikTok’s security. Asked if people should download the app, Pompeo said, “Only if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”

TikTok remains enormously popular, particularly among younger audiences. According to TikTok’s official figures, 60% of the app’s 26.5 million monthly active U.S. users are aged 16 to 24. In the first three months of 2020, TikTok enjoyed the best quarter of any app ever.