Reps. Walden, McMorris Rogers Grill TikTok Over Privacy

Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Consumer Protection Subcommittee ranking member Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) have big issues with video creation/sharing app TikTok and suggested it was time for some answers.  

In a letter to Yiming Zhang, CEO of TikTok parent ByteDance, dated Thursday (May 21), they shared their privacy concerns, specifically about possible violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). 

They are worried that TikTok's collection of data is being shared with the Chinese Communist Party. They also want some answers on the company's governance and issues related to the COVID-19 crisis and the shelter-at-home weary populace turning to apps like TikTok for connection. 

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“We are living through an unprecedented time due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. As a result of this pandemic, millions of our citizens, through no fault of their own, have no choice but to stay home," they wrote. "In doing so, they rely on the Internet to connect them to families, friends, and vital services. As a result, mobile application downloads have increased dramatically, especially TikTok. In fact, there has been a spike in both unique users and time spent on TikTok in recent months. Congress has significant concerns over TikTok’s data practices, including whether TikTok continues to violate the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and whether TikTok shares American user’s information with the Chinese Communist Party." 

They have almost two dozen questions they want answered, including how the company verifies parental consent for children to use the app, and how data is collected and used, and why.  

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They anticipated TikTok's "prompt attention" to the responses. 

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and Center for Digital Democracy are among a coalition of 20 groups that have filed a complaint at the Federal Trade Commission against TikTok, saying it is not adhering to its February 2019 settlement with the FTC.  

The video social networking app TikTok (formerly agreed to pay $5.7 million to settle the FTC allegation that it had illegally collected personal info from kids. In addition to the settlement, TikTok "agreed to change their practices to ensure COPPA compliance," the FTC said at the time. It was the largest civil penalty ever levied over an alleged children's privacy violation. 

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The groups said that the maker of the Chinese-backed short-form app has not deleted previously collected data from children and is still collecting personal info without the consent of their parents.  

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.