Following concerns from Italian and American intelligence agencies over Chinese technology, Italy’s data protection regulator called out the popular video sharing app for failing to protect its users’ data, especially those who are underage
On Tuesday, the Italian data protection regulator announced it would initiate legal proceedings against TikTok, the popular Chinese-owned video sharing app, over privacy concerns.
Following the regulator’s Italy-based investigation, alleged evidence has emerged that TikTok does not safeguard its users’ data enough, especially when it comes to minors.
For instance, users younger than 13 (the age by which they can use TikTok) can easily evade the age restriction by faking their birth date.
Moreover, TikTok’s default profile is set to public, which makes the online activity of potentially unknowing users visible to millions. And there is a lack of clarity regarding how much user data is stored, for how long, for what purpose, and with what degree of anonymisation.
Italian law requires a parent or guardian of an under 14 to clear their signing up to social networks. It also requires them to feature a dedicated sections for young people in their T&Cs, with simpler language and added parental protection.
Shortly after the regulator announced this news, TikTok issued an official response, claiming that its highest priority was ensuring user privacy and that it would keep collaborating with the Italian watchdog.
“However,” read the statement, “we do not agree with a series of aspects of [the regulator’s] analysis and the conclusion that have been drawn.”
Just a few months ago, the Chinese company behind the wildly popular video sharing app TikTok chose to establish its Southern European division in Milan, Italy. It has done so to better serve its growing user base (which has surpassed 100 million in Europe alone) and to strengthen its bond with major fashion brands, whose successful social media campaigns have skyrocketed during the pandemic.
But the app’s growth is being hindered by regulators across the world. Outgoing US President Donald Trump has repeatedly attempted to ban it (as well as other Chinese services, such as WeChat), while India has successfully managed to take it down and replace it with a home-grown alternative.
In Europe, the app is being probed by Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, the UK and the EU itself.
These global hostilities all share one common concern, privacy. Italy’s own investigation was initiated following a report by COPASIR – the parliamentary committee for the security of the Italian Republic –, issued in December 2019, that warned against possible misuse of user data.
When that report came out, Raffaele Volpi, the MP heading COPASIR, pointed out the “disturbing” nature of the app’s profiling practices and declared that it had been invented by the Chinese government to profile young people.
The COPASIR report also warned the government against Chinese telco technology, such as 5G, as it may compromise the security of Italy’s next-gen network. The US had already accused some Chinese tech companies of being vehicles for espionage, which Beijing strongly denies.