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House requests FTC investigation into TikTok

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

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

The notification reportedly collected information from TikTok users, including their zip codes, and if the video-sharing app sent messages to children, it would be against the law.

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

“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 broken the law and disputes the allegations.

“This letter does not pass the smell test,” a TikTok spokesperson told NBC News. “As we have said repeatedly, these notifications went to users 18 years and older, and users who received them always had multiple options to dismiss the notification. It is disheartening that members of Congress are raising concerns simply because they have heard from their own constituents pleading with them not to pass a bill that tramples on their First Amendment rights.”

COPPA was first enacted in 1998 and has been updated several times. In 2013, lawmakers included geolocation data as a protected category for personal information. TikTok’s notification asked users to enter their zip code to identify their representative. If the messages were sent to children, collecting their zip code information would violate COPPA.

As previously reported by The Dallas ExpressCongress has passed legislation through a security spending bill that would require ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, to divest the app or face a ban in the United States. The company has stated that it will not sell TikTok and is pursuing legal action to prevent the ban from taking effect.

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