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Italy orders TikTok to block users whose age it can’t verify

Italy’s data privacy watchdog ordered TikTok to block accounts of users in Italy whose age cannot be verified, after a 10 year old girl died doing a viral challenge on the platform. The child reportedly died of asphyxiation, and authorities are investigating whether she was invited by anyone to try the challenge.

The limitation will be in place until February 15, and the Italian watchdog will also bring the incident to the attention of Ireland’s data privacy officer, where TikTok has its EU office.

This isn’t the first time that TikTok has run into trouble with the Italian watchdog. In December 2020, the regulator said that the app didn’t pay enough attention to the protection of children, had easy-to-circumvent signup restrictions for kids, and poor transparency and clarity in user information.

It also started an investigation into TikTok in March 2020, which found that the platform had problematic data processing processes. Its signup mechanisms do not protect children adequately, the regulator said.

“TikTok’s signup ban for children under 13 is actually easy to circumvent by entering a false birth date. Thus, TikTok does not prevent kids from registering nor does it check that Italian privacy legislation is complied with – indeed, in Italy registration of a child under 14 with a social network requires the consent to be authorised by parents or the holders of parental authority,” the regulator had said in December.

TikTok has also run afoul with regulators outside of Italy for not protecting children’s privacy on the platform. The platform was penalised $5.7 million by the US Federal Trades Commission in February 2019 for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), after complaints that it illegally collected personal information of children below 13 years without parental consent. A few months after that, the United Kingdom started an investigation into the app for how it handles children’s personal data, and whether it prioritises the safety of children on its platform.

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In April 2019, TikTok was banned in India by the Madras High Court, which said it was spreading pornography, potentially exposing children to sexual predators, and adversely impacting its the mental health of its users. TikTok was again banned in India in 2020 — and continues be banned — for being an alleged threat to the country’s national security.

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