The popular social media app, Muscial.ly (now known as TikTok), which allows users to make videos of themselves lip syncing to songs, recently entered into a record $5.7 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) to resolve allegations of illegal collection of children’s data in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (“COPPA”).
To register for the Musical.ly app, users provide their email address, phone number, username, first and last name, short bio, and a profile picture. In addition to allowing users to create music videos, the Musical.ly app provides a platform for users to post and share the videos publicly. The app also had a feature whereby a user could discover a list of other users within a 50-mile radius with whom the user could connect and interact.
The FTC’s complaint alleged that Musical.ly was operating within the purview of COPPA in that (i) the Musical.ly app was “directed to children” and (ii) Musical.ly had actual knowledge that the company was collecting personal information from children. Specifically, the complaint alleged that the app was “directed to children” because the music library includes songs from popular children’s movies and songs popular among children and tweens. Furthermore, the FTC asserted that Musical.ly had actual knowledge that children under the age of 13 were registered users of the app because: (i) in December 2016, a third party publicly alleged in an interview with the cofounder of Musical.ly, Inc. that seven of the app’s most popular users appeared to be children under age 13; (ii) many users self-identify as under 13 in their profile bios or provide school information indicating that they are under the age of 13; and (iii) since at least 2014, Musical.ly received thousands of complaints from parents of children under the age of 13 who were registered users of the app.