U.S. probing TikTok over allegations app violated children’s privacy: sources

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday that the United States is "certainly looking at" banning Chinese social media apps, including TikTok, suggesting it shared information with the Chinese government, a charge it denied.

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.

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 the China-based short video sharing app 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 look into their allegations TikTok failed to delete videos and personal information about users age 13 and younger as it had agreed to do, among other violations.

Reuters could not determine whether any action would be taken against TikTok by either of the two agencies.

A TikTok spokesman said they take “safety seriously for all our users,” adding that in the United States they “accommodate users under 13 in a limited app experience that introduces additional safety and privacy protections designed specifically for a younger audience.”

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Officials from both the FTC, which reached the original consent agreement with TikTok, and 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. The Justice Department had no immediate comment.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz in Washington; Greg Roumeliotis and Echo Wang in New York; Editing by Chris Sanders and Tom Brown)

© 2020 Reuters

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