FTC investigating TikTok over data privacy protocols

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If the agency can’t settle with TikTok, a lawsuit could be next

TikTok's problems seem to multiply daily. Not only is Congress trying to ban the popular social media platform, it's now under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The agency is calling the company’s data privacy protocols into question, including potential violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection rule and portions of the FTC act. 

While the FTC’s formal investigation is wrapping up, consumers can expect one of two outcomes in the coming weeks: either the FTC reaches a settlement with TikTok, or the FTC chooses to file a lawsuit against TikTok, at which point the case would move to the Department of Justice. 

What is TikTok being accused of?  

Ultimately, the FTC’s biggest concern with the app is the way it handles users’ personal data. 

One such area of concern is a potential violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule, also known as COPPA. The rule is in place to protect young internet users’ personal data. Under the rule, websites or online services are prohibited from collecting information from users under the age of 13 without their knowledge or parental consent. 

Additionally, lawmakers have been in discussions on whether or not ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, has granted Chinese officials access to U.S. users’ personal information. While both companies have refused to comment on the FTC’s investigation, prior to the FTC’s efforts TikTok has maintained that Chinese officials have never had access to U.S. users’ personal information. 

However, the FTC has reason to believe that both TikTok and ByteDance have been untruthful, thus violating a portion of the FTC Act. The Act grants the agency the right to “prescribe rules defining with specificity acts or practices that are unfair or deceptive and establishing requirements designed to prevent such acts or practices,” among other points. 

As part of the investigation, the FTC plans to get a better idea of how TikTok and ByteDance have been using and accessing consumers’ personal data. 

Will the ban go through?

Lawmakers are pushing to have ByteDance either sell its portion of TikTok, or have the app face a ban across the country. However, it remains to be seen whether officials will move forward with the legislation. 

While the bill moved swiftly through the House of Representatives, and President Biden is eager to sign it into law if it gets that far, progress has since slowed in the Senate, as lawmakers can’t seem to agree on the best course of action. 

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