Italian data regulator opens formal procedure against TikTok

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Italy’s data protection regulator has initiated formal proceedings against TikTok alleging that the Chinese-owned video sharing app violates privacy, especially of minors.

The announcement comes after Europe’s network of privacy regulators, the EDPB, set up a taskforce to investigate TikTok’s data practices earlier this year at the request of the Italian authority, known as the Garante. The app is also under investigation by privacy regulators in the Netherlands, Denmark, France and the U.K..

In a statement Tuesday, the Garante said that it was opening its own formal procedure against TikTok despite the ongoing work at the European level because of an urgent need to protect Italian minors. The agency said that its investigation has found that TikTok’s ban on enrolment to people under 13 is easily circumvented and that information for users is too generic and not specific enough for children.

The regulator also accused the Chinese-owned app of a lack of clarity over how long it retains data for and what purposes, what anonymization methods it uses, as well as what happens to data that is sent to non-EU countries.

A TikTok spokesperson said: “TikTok’s top priority is protecting our users’ privacy and safety, especially our younger users. We recently received a report from the Italian Garante per la protezione dei dati personali (Italian Data Protection Agency) and while we are still assessing their conclusions and continuing to engage with the Garante to provide relevant information in response to their inquiries, we do not agree with a number of aspects of their analysis and some of the conclusions drawn. As our assessment is ongoing, we are unable to comment further at this point.”

The intervention by the Garante underscores confusion around regulating TikTok in Europe. Though the app shifted key data protection functions to Dublin in July in order to trigger the mechanism that would see the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) becomes its lead regulator under EU rules, the DPC itself has questioned that move.

The DPC did not immediately respond to request for clarification but has previously said that the EDPB is discussing the question of TikTok’s legal establishment.

TikTok will have 30 days to make submissions and possibly ask to be heard.

This article has been updated to include a comment from TikTok.

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