U.S. lawmakers seek FTC investigation of TikTok

U.S. lawmakers seek FTC investigation of TikTok
TikTok was already one of the most popular apps in the U.S. with both iOS and Android users before the pandemic hit. But many children stuck at home during what would have been the end of the school year and the beginning of their summer vacation have turned to the short-form video app. With the TikTok app, these kids created comedic, musical, and dance-oriented videos.

TikTok failed to follow a consent decree it signed as the behest of the FTC

However, since it became popular, there have been concerns about the app from politicians in the U.S. worried about the app's parent ByteDance. The latter is a Chinese based company and once again, as with Huawei, there are fears in Washington D.C. that TikTok is being used to secretly collect data from U.S. consumers and companies and send that data to Beijing. The app was originally created in China in 2016 where it is known as Douyin. TikTok was made for iOS and Android devices outside China a year later and users different servers. It entered the U.S. market after ByteDance merged with musical.ly in 2018. However, that merger never was vetted by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) like all acquisitions of U.S. companies by foreign firms are supposed to be. Last November, Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) sent a letter to the director of national intelligence requesting that TikTok be the subject of a national security investigation.

Now, Reuters is reporting that four U.S. senators have sent a letter to the FTC asking the regulatory agency to investigate allegations that TikTok violated a 2019 consent agreement that was supposed to secure the privacy of children. Under the consent agreement, TikTok agreed to take down videos made by users under 13. However, the videos were never removed leaving the app in violation of the terms of the agreement. Additionally, the lawmakers pointed out that TikTok failed to provide parents with a "direct notice" of its data practices before it compiled information on children using its app. And under the U.S. Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), TikTok was supposed to provide a link on its homepage to the company's privacy policy.

The letter to the FTC was signed by Democratic Senators Ed Markey, (an author of COPPA), and Richard Blumenthal. Also signing were Republican Senators Josh Hawley and Marsha Blackburn; the former is a harsh critic of both China and social media. The missive said, "Faced with compelling evidence that this wildly popular social media platform is blatantly flouting binding U.S. privacy rules, the FTC should move swiftly to launch an investigation and forcefully hold violators accountable."

Another letter to the FTC was sent by 14 Democrats on the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee demanding an investigation of TikTok. Two Republicans who belong to the same committee wrote a letter directly to Zhang Yiming, founder and chief executive of TikTok owner ByteDance seeking information about its alleged ties to the Chinese government and how it collects information about children. TikTok responded by sending an email that said that the company "takes the issue of safety seriously for all our users, and we continue to further strengthen our safeguards and introduce new measures to protect young people on the app."

If you want to give TikTok a try, you can install it on your iOS device from the Apple App Store, or download it on your Android device from the Google Play Store. We don't know whether the following statement from TikTok still applies, but when it was embroiled with Congress last year over its failure to have CFIUS sign off on the musical.ly acquisition, the company said, "While we cannot comment on ongoing regulatory processes, TikTok has made clear that we have no higher priority than earning the trust of users and regulators in the U.S. Part of that effort includes working with Congress and we are committed to doing so."

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