Elaine Fox, Head of Privacy - Europe
- The DPC looked at how certain privacy settings and features worked three years ago
- Most of the criticism we had addressed well before the investigation even began, such as setting all 13-15 year old accounts to private by default
- We'll continue to further strengthen protections for teenagers on TikTok
Ireland's Data Protection Commission (DPC) today announced the findings of its investigation relating to certain platform settings and age assurance measures we had in place three years ago. We respectfully disagree with several aspects of the decision, particularly the level of the fine, and we want to provide some important context while we evaluate next steps.
How we have already addressed most of the issues
The DPC's investigation focused on the period between July and December 2020 only. The DPC did not find that TikTok's age assurance measures violated the GDPR, and most of the decision's criticisms are no longer relevant as a result of measures we introduced at the start of 2021 - several months before the investigation began.
We believe our settings have always given users control over whether to choose a public or private account, but in January 2021 (eight months before the DPC launched its investigation), we became the first major platform to make all existing and new accounts for 13 to 15 year olds private by default. We also rolled out other key changes to further strengthen younger users' privacy:
- We tightened the options for those who can comment on a video created by 13 to 15-year-olds, offering a choice between 'Friends' or 'No One' only and removing the 'Everyone' option;
- We changed the 'Duet' and 'Stitch' settings so that nobody on TikTok could use these features with any content created by those under the age of 16 (for 16 and 17-year-olds, these features were set to 'Friends' by default); and
- We made the 'Suggest your account to others' setting 'Off' by default for 13 to 15-year-olds.
In addition, later this month, we will begin rolling out a redesigned account registration flow for new 16 and 17-year-old users that will be pre-selected to a 'private account'.
Introduced in 2020, Family Pairing lets parents and guardians link their TikTok account to their teenager's to view and adjust a variety of content and privacy settings.
Since November 2020, parents and guardians have not been able to enable direct messaging for 16 and 17-year-olds if these users had already disabled it (for clarity, direct messaging for 13 to 15-year-olds was fully disabled earlier in 2020).
We have continued to evolve Family Pairing over time - new features added earlier this year allow parents and guardians to: customise daily screen time limits; access the screen time dashboard of their teenager; schedule mute notifications; and activate a content filtering tool to prohibit content featuring certain words or hashtags from appearing in their teenager's feeds.
In March, we also started to prompt our community to learn more about Family Pairing, and to date we've reached more than 500 million people with this information. Through Family Pairing, we support more than 1 million teenagers and their families in setting guardrails based on their individual needs.
Enhancing transparency for younger users
At the start of this year, we also updated our Help Centre materials to make it more explicit that anyone on or off TikTok can view the videos of a public account. This addresses another of the DPC's criticisms, which stated that our use of the words "anyone" and "everyone" as a way of describing who can view the content of a public account, were not clear enough.
Addressing age assurance
While neither the DPC nor the European Data Protection Board found that TikTok's age assurance measures violated the GDPR, given the industry-wide importance of the topic, we wanted to highlight the work we do to ensure TikTok remains a platform for users aged 13 and over only.
Firstly, we've designed a neutral age gate that requires people to fill in their date of birth, with no 'nudges' for what the 'right' age is. If someone tries to create an account but does not meet our minimum age requirement, we suspend their ability to create another account.
Our commitment to enforcing our minimum age requirement does not end at the age gate and we take a number of additional steps to identify and remove suspected underage accounts, including:
- training our safety moderation team to be alert to signs of an underage account, as well as drawing on other information provided by our community, such as keywords and in-app reports;
- suspending any account that our safety team believes may belong to an underage person and;
- removing - or flagging for further assessment by our dedicated underage moderation team - any account being reviewed for another violation that is suspected to belong to an underage user.
We are also open about the effectiveness of our efforts. In 2021, we became the first (and remain the only) major platform to publicly disclose the number of suspected underage accounts we remove. We publish this in our quarterly Community Guideline Enforcement Reports and during the first three months of 2023, we removed nearly 17 million such accounts globally.
Age assurance is an industry-wide challenge. We will continue to engage with regulators and other experts to identify new solutions that further enhance our efforts to keep underage users off the platform.
Our commitment to keeping our European community safe
Over 134 million people across Europe* come to TikTok every month and our work to protect the privacy and safety of our community - and the teenagers who are part of it - has no finish line. Later this year, we will establish TikTok's global Youth Council as a new forum for listening to the experiences of the teenagers who use our platform and to make changes to create the safest possible space for them.
We'll also continue to focus on further strengthening a culture of compliance across our business - and as illustrated with the recent Digital Services Act, we will not hesitate to make significant changes to product features and processes to ensure TikTok meets the high standard of European safety and privacy regulation.
*Denotes European Union countries only.