Caixin
Oct 21, 2021 08:27 PM
TECH

U.S. Senate Calls TikTok to Testify on Minors’ Safety

TikTok will attend a U.S. Senate hearing to testify about child safety online. Photo: VCG
TikTok will attend a U.S. Senate hearing to testify about child safety online. Photo: VCG

Executives from short-video sensation TikTok will attend a U.S. Senate hearing to testify about how social media platforms can protect their young users, its Chinese owner ByteDance Ltd. confirmed with Caixin on Wednesday.

The Oct. 26 hearing is part of a series that the subcommittee has scheduled about child safety online. It follows a hearing earlier this month that put Facebook Inc. and its effect on underage users in the spotlight.

TikTok is facing a backlash in the U.S. where its promise to protect user information — especially that of minors — is still under scrutiny even after President Joe Biden in June withdrew a Trump-era executive order that sought to ban new downloads of the app.

The Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Data Security on Tuesday gave the names of some of those who would be called to testify, including Michael Beckerman, TikTok’s vice president and head of public policy for the Americas; Jennifer Stout, Snap’s vice president of global public policy; and Leslie Miller, YouTube’s vice president of government affairs and public policy.

In a statement, the subcommittee said the hearing will “examine how tech companies treat young audiences, including how algorithms and product design choices can amplify harms, addiction and intrusions into privacy” and will explore “needed improvements to our laws to protect children and teenagers online.”

The statement said that the misuse of social media platforms has harmed minors and promoted negative acts such as vandalism, bullying and manipulative influencer marketing.

“Recent revelations about harm to kids online show that Big Tech is facing its Big Tobacco moment — a moment of reckoning,” subcommittee chair Sen. Richard Blumenthal wrote in a Wednesday tweet.

In February 2019, TikTok was fined $5.7 million for illegally collecting the names, email addresses, pictures and locations of children under the age of 13 by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, a record penalty for violations of the country’s child privacy law.

TikTok is also facing an uncertain future in some of its European markets. Last month, Ireland’s Data Protection Commission launched two investigations into the platform over its settings for minors and age verification measures for users under the age of 13.

In January, TikTok was among a list of Chinese-owned apps permanently banned in India, once the company’s largest overseas market.

The announcement of the Senate hearing comes two weeks after Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee-turned-whistleblower told a subcommittee hearing that Facebook products increased teenagers’ anxiety over their appearance and incentivized extreme rhetoric.

“The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer, but won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profit before people. Congressional action is needed,” Haugen said.

Contact reporter Ding Yi (yiding@caixin.com) and editor Joshua Dummer (joshuadummer@caixin.com)

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