TikTok told to block users of unverified age after girl's death in Italy

Move comes after 10-year-old who took part in 'blackout challenge' died of asphyxiation

The ruling came after a girl died of asphyxiation in Palermo, Sicily.
The ruling came after a girl died of asphyxiation in Palermo, Sicily.PHOTO: AFP

ROME • The Italian data privacy watchdog ordered video app TikTok to block the accounts of any users in Italy whose age it could not verify to be at least 13 years old, following the death of a 10-year-old girl who had been using the Chinese-owned app.

In a statement on Friday, the regulator said that although TikTok had committed to banning registration for children aged under 13, it was nonetheless easy to circumvent this rule.

As a result, it said TikTok had to block unverified user accounts until at least Feb 15, awaiting further information.

There was no immediate response from TikTok, which is owned by China's ByteDance and has been rapidly growing in popularity around the world, particularly among teenagers.

The ruling came after a girl died of asphyxiation in Palermo, Sicily, in a case that has shocked Italy.

Her parents said she had been participating in a so-called blackout challenge on TikTok, putting a belt around her neck and holding her breath while recording herself on her phone.

Prosecutors have opened an investigation into possible incitement to suicide and are looking to see whether someone invited her to take part in the challenge.

"The watchdog decided to intervene as a matter of urgency following the terrible case of the 10-year-old girl from Palermo," the authority said.

It added that TikTok was banned from "further processing user data for which there is no absolute certainty of age and, consequently, of compliance with the provisions related to the age requirement".

An official said that this meant that users of unverified accounts would no longer be able to upload videos or interact with other people on the platform.

The watchdog said it had raised concerns with TikTok last month over what it called a series of violations, including allegations that the firm had failed to protect minors.

It added that it had told the authorities in Ireland about its decision because TikTok has announced that it would run its European operations out of Dublin.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 24, 2021, with the headline 'TikTok told to block users of unverified age after girl's death in Italy'. Subscribe