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Wed 08 July 2020:

China-based social media app has faced intense scrutiny over allegations it shares information with Chinese government.

The US Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department are probing allegations that TikTok has failed to meet its obligation to protect children’s privacy under a 2019 agreement, Reuters reported Tuesday. Two sources told the news agency they participated in separate conference calls with the agencies regarding the accusations.

TikTok is a wildly popular social media app where people, mostly teens and young adults, post videos of up to 15 seconds, often synced with music. The app surged in popularity in the first quarter of the year, logging more than 2 billion downloads from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, analytics firm Sensor Tower reported in April.

In May, the Center for Digital Democracy, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and more than a dozen other organizations asked the FTC to look into allegations that the app’s operators violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act by failing to delete personal information about users under the age 13 as it had agreed to do.

In 2019, the app’s operators agreed to pay $5.7 million to settle FTC charges that it violated COPPA by failing to obtain parental consent before collecting personal info on kids under the age of 13. TikTok also failed to delete that personal information when it received complaints from parents and their children, according to the FTC.

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.”

The app has come under increasing scrutiny in recent months. US lawmakers have accused it of being a threat to national security, and the US Army and Navy have banned the app from government devices.

In an interview with Fox News on Monday night, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Trump administration is aware of TikTok and is considering a ban on the app.

“We’re certainly looking at it,” Pompeo said in response to an interviewer’s question. “We’ve worked on this very issue for a long time,” he added, citing the administration’s prohibitions against embattled China telecom-gear maker Huawei.

The FTC declined to comment. The Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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.

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