FTC brings TikTok complaint to the US justice department

19 Jun 2024

Image: © Bilal Ulker/Stock.adobe.com

The FTC believes named defendants are ‘violating or are about to violate the law’, while TikTok strongly disagrees with the FTC allegations.

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has referred a TikTok investigation to the country’s Department of Justice (DOJ), due to concerns that the defendants are violating the law.

The FTC began investigating TikTok following a 2019 settlement with Musical.ly, an app that was acquired by TikTok owner ByteDance and incorporated into the social media app. But TikTok was handed a data privacy fine of $5.7m after the FTC found that the Musical.ly app hosted content published by underage users – a breach of the US Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

The US commission investigated TikTok and ByteDance for additional violations of this act and its own FTC Act. The FTC has referred this investigation to the DOJ as it believes “named defendants are violating or are about to violate the law” and that a proceeding is in the public interest.

“Although the Commission does not typically make public the fact that it has referred a complaint, we have determined that doing so here is in the public interest,” the FTC said in its statement.

In response, TikTok’s policy account on X said it is “disappointed” that the FTC is pursuing litigation instead of “continuing to work with us on a reasonable solution”.

“We strongly disagree with the FTC’s allegations, many of which relate to past events and practices that are factually inaccurate or have been addressed,” TikTok said. “We’re proud of and remain deeply committed to the work we’ve done to protect children and we will continue to update and improve our product.”

The FTC complaint is the latest issue for ByteDance in the US, which is facing a legal battle to retain ownership of TikTok at the risk of a national ban. In April, the US passed a bill that will ban TikTok in the country unless it cuts ties with the Chinese parent company. Those in favour of this divestment argue that Chinese law could compel companies such as TikTok to hand over data to the country’s government and pose a national security risk in the US.

TikTok is suing the US government over this divestment act and called it “unconstitutional”. The company claims the divestment being demanded by the US government is not possible commercially, technologically or legally and “certainly not on the 270-day timeline required by the Act”.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic