Privacy Ref Blog

Protecting kids online – are we doing our best?

I’m trying to work through some thoughts about how companies repeatedly take advantage of consumers’ privacy in the US.  The latest being TikTok, a video sharing app acquired from, which has agreed to pay $5.7 million to settle allegations that it collected personal information from children – a violation of COPPA or the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.  Of note, TikTok is a $75 billion – with a B – dollar startup.  In GDPR terms, the maximum fine for egregious behavior could be 4% of gross revenues or in TikTok’s case $3 billion – with a B – dollars, which is a far cry from the fine that the FTC assessed for their alleged COPPA violations (FTC’s largest ever COPPA fine).

There is no doubt that smart phones are part of the daily existence, but they’ve also had negative effects on kids.  Sure, as a parent, “I always want to be in touch with my kid,” but at what expense?  Unhealthy addiction?  The vulnerability and risk of being online as an adolescent or teen?  Since companies can’t seem to police themselves from participating in poor choices about data collection from children, what if we raised the minimum age of COPPA – to say about 16?  Is it time for the US government to step in and show some support for its citizens (taxpayers)?  And when it comes to levying fines that hurt, let’s look to GDPR as a framework for America’s first national privacy law.

Raising the age to 16 would surely be aggressively protested by top tech companies that vacuum up personal data like black holes, but could we at least aim to protect this generation of phone-dependent youth?  Would such a step really be worth the effort for parents having to review and decide whether they should grant consent for the 20th or 50th app their kid wants to download?  Is it too much to ask for companies targeting youths and are at risk of violating COPPA to lean on the conservative side and institute an appropriate age-gate mechanism, especially considering there are tens of millions global active monthly users in this example?

For now, these issues will be considered by a divided US Congress of those that lean towards privacy, and those that lean on capitalism.  In the meantime, my daughter has shared her videos. They’re cute enough, but how’s Spanish coming along? Know what I’m saying as a parent?

If you’re developing a product that’s targeting children under the age of 13 and have privacy questions about how to do it right, Privacy Ref can help.  If you’re fielding a call from the FTC about your product that’s targeting children under 13, call your attorney. 

Privacy Ref provides consulting and assessment services to build and improve organizational privacy programs. For more information call Privacy Ref at (888) 470-1528 or email us at

Posted on March 15, 2019 by Linda Brust

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