FTC refers TikTok complaint to Justice Department

  • The Federal Trade Commission said on Tuesday that it’s referred its complaint against TikTok to the Department of Justice.
  • The FTC was investigating TikTok and Chinese parent ByteDance over alleged faulty privacy and data security practices.

This lawsuit could have far-reaching implications for TikTok’s future operational strategy and global impact, particularly in terms of handling user data and protecting the privacy of minors. The move of FTC shows serious concerns about TikTok’s efforts to protect the privacy of underage users.

–Revel Cheng, BTW reporter

The FTC said Tuesday that it’s referred its complaint against TikTok and Chinese parent ByteDance to the U.S. Department of Justice.

What happened

The FTC began its investigation following a 2019 settlement with Musical.ly, the predecessor to TikTok, that was related to violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The FTC was probing to see if TikTok violated a federal law that prohibits “unfair and deceptive” business practices.

The regulator said it’s transferring the case to the DOJ because the investigation “uncovered reason to believe named defendants are violating or are about to violate the law.”

At a January Senate hearing, TikTok CEO Shouzi Zhou stated that the company employs approximately 40,000 people in its trust and safety operations. However, he also indicated uncertainty regarding the number of minors using the platform.

A TikTok spokesperson said it’s been working with the FTC on the matter for over a year and is “disappointed” the agency decided to pursue litigation.

The company faces other challenges in the U.S. In May, TikTok sued the U.S. government after President Joe Biden signed legislation that gives ByteDance nine months to find a buyer and a three month extension if a deal is in progress. In the absence of a deal, the short-form video app could be banned.

Also read: The FTC starts inquiry into TikTok’s privacy and security actions

Also read: FTC launches strategy to combat $1.1B impersonation scam losses

Why it’s important

“Although the Commission does not typically make public the fact that it has referred a complaint, we have determined that doing so here is in the public interest and that a proceeding is in the public interest,” the FTC said.

The FTC’s action reflects the government’s commitment to protecting consumer privacy, especially when dealing with personal data and information by technology companies. As one of the most popular social media platforms in the world, TikTok’s users are mainly concentrated in young people and teenagers, so how to protect the privacy of these users has become the focus of social attention.

TikTok CEO Shouzi Zhou stressed during a recent congressional hearing that the company has invested significant resources in improving trust and safety measures, including hiring tens of thousands of employees dedicated to these issues. However, he also acknowledged that there is still a limited grasp of the age distribution of users, which shows that TikTok still faces challenges in implementing and monitoring its user privacy protection policies.


Revel Cheng

Revel Cheng is an intern news reporter at Blue Tech Wave specialising in Fintech and Blockchain. She graduated from Nanning Normal University. Send tips to r.cheng@btw.media.

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