Chinese-owned video app TikTok faces a £27million ($29million) fine in the UK for failing to protect children’s privacy.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said on Monday it had sent a “letter of intent” to TikTok and TikTok Information Technologies UK, informing them of ICO’s preliminary view that the social media platform violated the breached UK data protection law The letter of intent is a legal document which precedes a possible fine.
The regulator said it came to the determination following an investigation that began in 2019.
According to the ICO investigation, TikTok could have:
- Handling personal information of under 13s without proper parental consent
- has failed to provide its users with accurate information in a clear, transparent and understandable manner
- Special category data processed without a valid legal basis
The ICO said the findings in the notice are preliminary and should not be inferred as to whether a breach of data protection laws actually occurred or whether a fine would ultimately be imposed.
“We will carefully review all representations of TikTok before making a final decision,” the regulator added.
The maximum penalty the ICO can issue would be based on an estimate of 4% of TikTok’s annual global revenue.
A spokesman for TikTok said: CNBC the company disagrees with the preliminary findings of the ICO and intends to file a formal response.
“While we respect the ICO’s role in protecting privacy in the UK, we do not agree with the preliminary views expressed and intend to formally respond to the ICO in due course,” the TikTok spokesperson said.
Information Commissioner John Edwards said the ICO’s initial assessment was that TikTok failed to meet the legal obligation for companies offering digital services to implement adequate data protection.
“We all want children to be able to learn and experience the digital world, but with adequate privacy,” he noted.
Edwards added that the ICO is actively investigating compliance with the Children’s Code across more than 50 different online services.
The hugely popular TikTok app, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, has been criticized in several countries for its ties to the Chinese government.
In the US, former President Donald Trump even tried to ban TikTok by executive order.
The UK Parliament also suspended its TikTok account last month after a number of MPs and colleagues raised concerns about the platform’s ties to the Chinese Communist Party and the handling of user data.
In June, an official with the US Communications Administration asked Apple and Google to ban the app over “national security concerns.”