TikTok to block users in Italy who say they are under 13, after girl dies

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Tik Tok logos are seen on smartphones in front of a displayed ByteDance logo in this illustration taken November 27, 2019. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

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MILAN, Feb 3 (Reuters) - The video-sharing app TikTok said on Wednesday it had agreed with Italian authorities to block all users who gave their age as under 13, among other measures, after the death of a 10-year-old girl was blamed on a breath-holding social media challenge.

Prosecutors in Palermo are investigating that case, which has led to increased scrutiny of children's use of social media platforms. read more

TikTok, owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, first gained popularity in Asia and now also has a big following in the West. It has become hugely popular among teenagers in Italy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The Italian regulator, Garante della Privacy, said TikTok had agreed to block all accounts in Italy from Feb. 9, and to readmit only users who provided a date of birth showing they were at least 13 years old.

A button will also be introduced into the app to enable members to report users who appear to be under 13, TikTok's head of child safety in Europe, Alexandra Evans, said in a statement.

Garante della Privacy said it reserved the right to verify whether the proposed measures were effective.

"Such steps will not solve the issue," Guido Scorza, a member of Garante's board, told Reuters. "But they can certainly help in reducing the number of children under 13 using the app by giving parents an additional chance to check whether their children are using something they should not be using."

The regulator said TikTok had also agreed to evaluate using artificial intelligence to detect under-age accounts.

"That means using data on profile activity - such as interactions with other users or content uploads - to ascertain the age of users," Scorza said.

TikTok will, however, have to discuss this proposal with the Irish privacy authority, which is the European Union's lead data protection authority for TikTok because the firm has its European head office in Ireland.

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Reporting by Elvira Pollina, editing by Valentina Za and Kevin Liffey

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