Investigation into TikTok over child privacy, safety gets underway

This story was updated with a statement from a TikTok spokesperson.

An investigation into how social media app TikTok handles the data of children was launched in the Netherlands on Friday. The Dutch Data Protection Authority (AP) said it was examining the app to determine if it was compliant with both Dutch and EU law as it pertains to handling the data of its youngest users.

In January, an expose by newspaper NRC detailed allegations from several former staffers at the company who accused TikTok of having poor internal security, unprofessional behavior among its Dutch moderators, and the heavy censorship of some user content. TikTok was also accused by one former anonymous staff member of piling on a tremendous workload that made it difficult, or impossible, to identify when adults were trying to groom potential child sexual abuse victims, and to block suspicious communications between adults and children.

"A huge number of Dutch children clearly love using TikTok," said the deputy chair of the AP, Monique Verdier. The independent government office wanted to know more about the app's privacy features, the transparency with regard to how the personal data of children is collected, processed, and used, and if the information provided when the app is installed is clear and understandable.

"Lastly, we’ll look at whether parental consent is required for TikTok to collect, store and use children’s personal data," Verdier said.

"Under Dutch law and under the EU General Data Protection Regulation, children are seen as particularly vulnerable because they are less aware of the consequences of their actions, especially
when it comes to sharing personal data on social media," the AP said in a statement. Now that more and more children have installed TikTok on their devices, the office has "growing concerns about privacy."

"TikTok's top priority is protecting our users’ privacy and safety, especially our younger users," a spokesperson for the app told NL Times by email. "We are aware of the investigation by the Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens and are fully cooperating with them."

The initial findings will be released later this year, the AP said.