TOLEDO (WTOL) - A popular app, your kids might be using, will pay a major fine for collecting their personal information.
TikTok will pay $5.7 million. The FTC says it’s the largest penalty ever in a children’s privacy case. By law, websites have to get parents’ consent before collecting personal information from kids under 13.
The fine stems from practices when the app was called Musical.ly. It became TikTok in 2017 when the company changed practices to officially ban kids under 13 from joining.
WTOL 11 Investigates looked into whether TikTok not only collects, but also shares the personal information of its users. You may have seen a post making the rounds on social media of a mother urging parents to rid their kids' phones of the app, claiming her daughter received a call from a stranger knowing her personal information after she used TikTok.
WTOL 11 reached out to viewers to see if this was happening to anyone else.
“You basically lip sync to songs, basically try to make your own videos, I guess, for it,” said Sarah Strasbourg, describing the TikTok app.
Her eight-year-old daughter, Caris starting using it when it was called Musical.ly. At that time, the app didn’t ban users under age 13. Sarah said she set her daughter’s profile to private and checked it every day to make sure everything was on the up and up.
“She would start getting these random phone numbers, text messages. The text messages were general, ‘hey.’ ‘hi.’ ‘what’s up?’ She knows never to respond to those,” said Sarah.
Then, Sarah said she saw the warning post on social media and she decided to delete the app.
“She hasn’t gotten any text messages since. She hasn’t gotten any phone calls.”
Sarah said she can’t say for sure those calls starting coming because of the app, but she feels better that it’s no longer on her daughter’s phone.
WTOL 11 Investigates wanted to know, does TikTok share the personal information of users? We reached out to the company. A representative first sent a Snopes article discrediting the claim that the app shares users’ personal information with other users, but what about sharing personal information with third party advertisers, who can be placing those calls to people like Caris?
Part of TikTok’s privacy statement said this:
“We also share your information with our business partners, advertisers, analytics and search engine providers.”View TikTok’s full policy here
In speaking with that same TikTok representative over the phone, WTOL was told while it was stated in the privacy privacy, the app doesn’t share your personal information and that it was only used to confirm users are who they say they are.
“There’s no free lunch. Nothing’s free,” said Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Bowling Green State University, Robert Green.
He said there are certain things to keep in mind when you download a free app.
“Most of the companies make money through advertising. So the common line in the industry is, ‘you’re the product.’ If it’s a free app, they’re selling you. They’re collecting as much data as they can from you and the more you give them access to, the more money they can make and the happier they are,” said Green.
Green added that you shouldn’t let your guard down, especially if your kids are the ones using the app. He suggests immediately changing the security settings when you download a new app.
“There’s tons of privacy settings you can change in the background to not share information to not give access to cameras, phones, or photos or contacts. So make sure those are locked down. And then also go into the account settings for whatever app or provider and do the same thing. Make everything as private as possible,” he explained.
TikTok does have a Safety Center on its website with resources for parents here.
The company also said users don’t have to enter a phone number to set up an account. They can use an email, or signup through an existing social media account like Facebook or Instagram.
Be aware, whatever personal information you supply to those social media platforms, would allow be accessible to TikTok.