TikTok removes 500k+ accounts in Italy after DPA order to block underage users – TechCrunch

by Jeremy

Video-sharing social network TikTok has removed more than 500,000 accounts in Italy following an intervention by the country’s data protection watchdog earlier this year, ordering it to recheck the age of all Italian users and block access to any under the age of 13. According to the regulator, between February 9 and April 21, more than 12.5M Italian users were asked to confirm that they were over 13 years old.

Online age verification remains a complex problem, and it’s not clear how many of the removed accounts definitively belonged to under 13s. Today, the regulator said that TikTok pulled over 500k users because they were “likely” to be under the age of 16, around 400,000 because they declared an age under 13, and 140,000 through what the DPA describes as “a combination of moderation and reporting tools” implemented within the app.

TikTok has also agreed to take additional measures to strengthen its ability to detect and block underage users — including potentially developing AI tools to help it identify when children are using the service.

Reached for comment, TikTok sent us a statement confirming that it is trialing “additional measures to help ensure that only users aged 13 or over can use TikTok”.


Here’s the statement, which TikTok attributed to Alexandra Evans, its head of child safety in Europe:

“TikTok’s top priority is protecting the privacy and safety of our users, and in particular our younger users. Following continued engagement with the Garante, we will be trialing additional measures to help ensure that only users aged 13 or over can use TikTok.

“We already take industry-leading steps to promote youth safety on TikTok, such as setting accounts to private by default for users under 16 and enabling parents to link their account to their teen’s through Family Pairing. There is no finish line regarding safety, and we continue to evaluate and improve our policies, processes, and systems and consult with external experts.”

Italy’s data protection regulator made an emergency intervention in January — ordering TikTok to recheck the age of all users and block any users whose age it could not verify. The action followed reports in local media about a 10-year-old girl from Palermo who died of asphyxiation after participating in a “blackout challenge” on the social network.

Among the beefed-up measures, TikTok has agreed to take a commitment to act faster to remove underage users — with the Italian DPA saying the platform has guaranteed it will cancel reported accounts it verifies as belonging to those under 13s within 48 hours.

The regulator said TikTok has also committed to “study and develop” solutions — which may include using artificial intelligence — to “minimize the risk of children under 13 using the service”.

TikTok has also agreed to launch ad campaigns, both in-app and through radio and newspapers in Italy, to raise awareness about the safe use of the platform and get the message out that it is not suitable for under-12s — including targeting this messaging in a language and format that’s likely to engage underage minors themselves.

The social network has also agreed to share information with the regulator relating to the effectiveness of the various experimental measures — to work with the regulator to identify the best ways of keeping underage users off the service.

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