Music.ly, now known as Tik Tok, an app popular with children and teenagers, settled a lawsuit with the FTC under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”) to the tune of $5.7 Million Dollars. This sum is the largest civil penalty the FTC has ever obtained under COPPA.
If you have never heard of Music.ly or Tik Tok, there likely are no tweens or teens in your life. The basis of the app, which boasts over 200 million users, is that it is a video social network in which users create short lip-syncing videos, share them publically, and interact with others users via comments and direct messages. Think of the now-defunct video-app Vine, but set to music.
The settlement pertained to a complaint filed by the Department of Justice on behalf of the FTC. The complaint alleged that Music.ly violated COPPA by failing to notify parents about the app’s collection and use of information, not obtaining parental consent prior to collecting information from children under 13, and failing to delete personal information at the request of parents. Allegedly, the app received thousands of complaints from parents.
Commenting on the settlement, an FTC Chairman emphasized that Music.ly knew it had children using the app, but still failed to seek parental consent. Instead, Music.ly collected names, email address and other information from these under-13 users. Additionally, user accounts were public by default, meaning that if a child-user was not savvy enough to change his/her settings to private, his/her content could be seen and interacted with from anyone else using the app. Further still, up until October 2016 the app had a geolocation component allowing users to view other users within a fifty-mile radius of a user’s location.
As part of the multi-million dollar settlement, Music.ly must comply with COPPA going forward and take offline all videos made by children under the age of 13. If you have a website, app or other online service, which may attract child users even if it is not targeting them, be sure that you have appropriate safeguards in place to comply with COPPA. This settlement proves that non-compliance with COPPA is no singing matter.