TikTok Obeys the Italian Privacy Authority

Arturo Di Corinto
Feb 16 · 3 min read

Hacker’s Dictionary. The Chinese company that owns the video-sharing platform from 9th February will remove the profiles of minors under the age of thirteen. In the future, TikTok it could use artificial intelligence to block those who provide a fake age. With significant privacy risks

Written by Arturo Di Corinto

Lungotevere, Roma (Castel Sant’Angelo), Italia

Italians under the age of 13 will no longer be able to sign up for TikTok. The Chinese company that owns the video sharing platform, ByteDance, decided to collaborate with the Italian Data Protection Authority who had ordered it to block the data processing of under-13s after a sad news story.

A few days ago a 10-year-old girl was the victim of a fatal accident, perhaps following an alleged challenge seen on TikTok, the #Blackoutchallenge, which was said to challenge users to measure their resistance to suffocation. Of the infamous challenge, known to young people, according to a school survey, there are no more traces and the Authority himself had intervened on the basis of press reports.

The “challenges”, in the jargon of the platforms, are the competitions in which you compete in dance performances, gymnastic tests, endurance demonstrations. Some of them, published on Youtube before their ban, invited to compete for who swallows the largest number of washing machine detergent balls, others consist in setting themselves on fire after being doused with alcohol. They are collected in compilations and published on social networks.

So, now, starting February 9, Tik Tok will ask users to indicate their date of birth again before continuing to use the app by removing children under 13 since in Italy it is legal to subscribe a social network after the age of 14.

Since it is not certain that the children will honestly declare their age, the platform announced that it could evaluate it with indirect systems. How? Using Artificial Intelligence (AI), subject to an agreement with the Privacy Authority of Ireland where the company has its main plant.

The remedy could be worse than the disease. Age verification may involve the collection and analysis of all data referable to a user, from the IP address with which he connects to the network to the sifting of data and behavior through psychometry and facial biometrics techniques, a sector in which the Chinese are at the forefront. In fact, Bytedance does not only deal with digital platforms but rather with services based on machine learning algorithms as in the case of its news aggregator, Toutiao, built on the preferences and tastes of users. TikTok already uses artificial intelligence to analyze interests and tastes in order to personalize its content.

How do they do it? When you enter a social network, the contents offered are divided by age group and year of birth. The age range is deduced from in-app behaviors such as likes, comments, post scrolling frequency, connection times and frequency, and then from the network of friends. With these methods, TikTok is already able to identify 14–17 year olds quite well but not young people under thirteen because, they say, they cannot collect the data.

Reason why the owners of the platform — Guido Scorza tells us — a member of the Privacy Authority, would like a reference standard. Yet they could make fairly accurate assumptions by subtraction, using debit and credit card codes or adult Spid tokens (Spid is the italian digital identification system). Opening up to the use of AI for age verification, on the other hand, could open a deeper chasm in the privacy of adults and children.

For this reason it will be necessary to carefully evaluate the future new Privacy Policy of Tik Tok for minors under 18 years of age. TikTok now has one billion users. In 2018 she was fined by the American authorities precisely for failing to verify the age of the users and last year the former president of the italian Privacy Authority Antonello Soro had invested the European Authorities to investigante the pedophilia risk on the platform.

The article was written in italian and published for Il Manifesto: https://ilmanifesto.it/tiktok-obbedisce-al-garante-privacy/

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Arturo Di Corinto

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Teacher, journalist, hacktivist. Privacy advocate, copyright critic, free software fan, cybersecurity curious.

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