House Requests FTC Investigation Into TikTok

TikTok/Getty images Chesnot / Contributor

The House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission requesting an investigation into whether TikTok violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule.

Committee chair Rep. John Moolenaar (R-MI) and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) sent the letter, which was first reported on by NBC News. The committee is calling for an investigation over claims that TikTok sent pop-up notifications asking users to contact Congress ahead of efforts to TikTok’s China-based parent company to divest from the platform or face a ban in the United States.

The notification purportedly collected information from TikTok users, including their ZIP codes, and if the video-sharing app sent messages to children, it would have violated the law.

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA) restricts the activities of certain websites that direct content toward children. Violations can exceed $50,000 per instance. The law was applied three times in 2023, with fines issued to Microsoft, Amazon, and Edmodo, according to Privo. A similar law in Europe was applied to TikTok twice last year.

“While the House was considering our bill, TikTok transformed its app into an emergency messaging system for the [Chinese Communist Party], misleading users about the bill and encouraging children to call our offices,” Moolenaar said in a statement to NBC News.

TikTok claims it has not violated the law and disputes the allegations.

“This letter doesn’t pass the smell test,” a TikTok spokesperson told NBC News. “As we’ve said repeatedly, these notifications went to users aged 18 and older, and users receiving them always had multiple options to dismiss the notification. It is disheartening that members of Congress are expressing concern simply because they heard from their own constituents imploring them not to pass a bill trampling on their First Amendment rights.”

COPPA was initially enacted in 1998 and has been updated several times. In 2013, lawmakers included geolocation data as a protected personal information category. The notification from TikTok asked users to input their ZIP code to identify their representative. If the messages were sent to children, collecting their ZIP code data would violate COPPA.

As previously reported by The Dallas Express, Congress passed legislation through a security spending bill requiring ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, to divest the app or face a ban in the United States. The company has stated it will not sell TikTok and is pursuing legal challenges to prevent the ban from going into effect.

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