The United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Justice are looking into allegations that popular app TikTok failed to live up to a 2019 agreement aimed at protecting children’s privacy, two people interviewed by the agencies told Reuters.
The development is the latest bump in the road for the short-video company, which is popular with teens. TikTok has seen scrutiny, including from the national security-focused Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, rise sharply because of its Chinese parent corporation.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday that the Trump administration is “certainly looking at” banning TikTok, suggesting the company shared information with the Chinese government, a charge it denied.
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 that TikTok 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 to look into their allegations that TikTok failed to delete videos and personal information about users age 13 and younger as it had agreed to do, among other violations.
A TikTok spokesman told the Reuters news agency they take “safety seriously for all our users,” adding that in the US they “accommodate users under 13 in a limited app experience that introduces additional safety and privacy protections designed specifically for a younger audience.”
Officials from the FTC, which reached the original consent agreement with TikTok, and the 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.
TikTok, which allows users to create short videos, has grown increasingly popular among US teenagers. About 60 percent of TikTok’s 26.5 million monthly active users in the US are aged 16 to 24, the company said last year.
US policymakers have also raised national security concerns over TikTok’s handling of user data, saying they were worried about Chinese laws requiring domestic companies support and cooperate with the Chinese Communist Party.
TikTok, owned by parent company ByteDance, is one of several China-based firms that have had to navigate heightened US-China tensions over trade, technology and the coronavirus pandemic.
On Tuesday, TikTok said it was exiting Hong Kong following China’s establishment of a sweeping new national security law for the semi-autonomous city, as other technology companies including Facebook, Google and Twitter suspend processing government requests for user data in the region.
Under intense US regulatory scrutiny, TikTok has poached Disney’s Kevin Mayer to be its chief executive and is trying to project a more global image, with offices in California, Singapore and elsewhere.