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(Reuters) — The Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Justice Department are looking into allegations that popular app TikTok failed to live up to a 2019 agreement aimed at protecting children’s privacy, according to two people interviewed by the agencies. The development is the latest bump in the road for the short video company, which is popular with teens. TikTok has seen a sharp rise in scrutiny, including from the national security-focused Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, because of its Chinese parent corporation.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday that the United States is “certainly looking at” banning TikTok, suggesting it shared information with the Chinese government, a charge it denied. A staffer in a Massachusetts tech policy group and another source said they took part in separate conference calls with FTC and Justice Department officials to discuss accusations that TikTok had failed to live up to an agreement announced in February 2019. The Center for Digital Democracy, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, and others in May asked the FTC to look into their allegations that TikTok failed to delete videos and personal information about users age 13 and younger, as it had agreed to do, among other violations.
A TikTok spokesperson said the company takes “safety seriously for all our users,” adding that in the United States it can “accommodate users under 13 in a limited app experience that introduces additional safety and privacy protections designed specifically for a younger audience.”
Officials from both the FTC, which reached the original consent agreement with TikTok, and the Justice Department, which often files court documents for the FTC, met via video with representatives of the groups to discuss the matter, said David Monahan, a campaign manager with the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. “I got the sense from our conversation that they are looking into the assertions that we raised in our complaint,” Monahan said.
A second person, speaking privately, confirmed that advocates had met with officials from the two agencies to discuss concerns TikTok violated the consent decree.
The FTC declined to comment. And the Justice Department had no immediate comment.
TikTok, which allows users to create short videos, has grown increasingly popular among U.S. teenagers. About 60% of TikTok’s 26.5 million monthly active users in the United States are aged 16 to 24, the company said last year. U.S. lawmakers have also raised national security concerns over TikTok’s handling of user data, saying they were worried about Chinese laws requiring domestic companies to support and cooperate with the Chinese Communist Party.
TikTok, owned by parent company ByteDance, is one of several China-based firms that have had to navigate heightened U.S.-China tensions over trade, technology, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Under intense U.S. regulatory scrutiny, TikTok has poached Disney’s Kevin Mayer to be its CEO and is trying to project a more global image, with offices in California, Singapore, and elsewhere.
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