Italian watchdog tells TikTok to block users whose ages can’t be verified

Italy’s data privacy authority has ordered video sharing app TikTok to temporarily block the accounts of any users whose ages can’t be confirmed, Reuters reported. The order comes after the death of a 10-year-old girl in Palermo, whose parents told authorities their daughter was participating in a “blackout challenge” she saw on the app. The child died of asphyxiation, and authorities are investigating whether anyone invited her to try the challenge.

The Italian Data Protection Authority ordered TikTok to block unverified users in Italy until at least February 15th. The company told The Guardian it had not found content on its platform which would have encouraged the child to participate in the challenge, but said it was cooperating with the investigation.

“Privacy and safety are top priorities for TikTok and we are constantly strengthening our policies, processes, and technologies to protect all users, and our younger users in particular,” a TikTok spokesperson said in an email to The Verge on Saturday.

Under its terms of service, users must be at least 13 years old to sign up for an account on TikTok, but Italian authorities said it’s easy to get around that rule. TikTok has a version of its app in the US for children under 13— TikTok for Younger Users— which is meant to limit the content and interaction available to those users.

As it skyrocketed in popularity, TikTok spent much of the past year adding more privacy controls for younger users’ accounts. It introduced remote parental controls and allowed parents to change kids’ privacy settings on the app. Earlier this month, TikTok updated the default privacy settings for users between 13 and 15 years old, putting limits on who can see and comment on their videos.

But children’s privacy advocates have argued that TikTok does not do enough to protect children on its platform. Its Beijing-based parent company ByteDance paid a $5.7 million fine to the US Federal Trade Commission in 2019 for an earlier version of TikTok called Musical.ly, over allegations it violated the Children’s Online Privacy Act (COPPA) in allowing users under 13 to sign up for the app without their parents’ consent.

The temporary suspension of unverified accounts in Italy bans TikTok from “further processing user data for which there is no absolute certainty of age and, consequently, of compliance with the provisions related to the age requirement.”