TikTok Blocked For Some Users In Italy Over ‘Blackout Game’ Allegations

(APPLE INSIDER) – Italy’s Data Protection Authority has blocked access to TikTok for some users in the country who cannot prove their age, in the wake of the death of a 10-year-old girl attempting to take part in a dangerous “challenge.”

The country’s data regulator issued orders to block access to the social video site for any user who cannot definitively prove their age. While TikTok’s own terms and conditions mandate users be at least 13 years old, the ban affects practically all users that the app cannot accurately determine are of an appropriate age.

The order follows after a girl’s death in a Palermo hospital, admitted after being found unconscious in the family bathroom with her smartphone. One of the girl’s sisters told the parents she was “playing the blackout game,” reports The Guardian.

The so-called TikTok challenge is also known as “scarfing” or “the choking game,” and revolves around the idea of participants restricting how much oxygen reaches the brain to experience a high. This would involve suffocation or choking, which is a risk to life.

Under the order, TikTok must prevent access to unverifiable users in Italy until February 15 at the earliest. The ban does not affect users in other territories, only those based in Italy.

“The safety of the TikTok community is our absolute priority,” a TikTok spokesman said. “For this motive we do not allow any content that encourages, promotes, or glorifies behavior that could be dangerous.”

This is not the first time TikTok has run afoul of Italy’s data regulator. It is already the subject of a lawsuit from December, which alleged a “lack of attention to the protection of minors,” in that it is extremely easy for children younger than 13 to sign up for an account using a fake date of birth.

The incident also sparked reactions by politicians in the country, with critics calling for more regulation of social networks. Italian parliamentary commission for child protection president Licia Ronzulli said “Social networks can’t become a jungle where anything is allowed.”

The close scrutiny of TikTok in Italy may prompt similar actions in other countries, especially due to the victim’s young age. Such actions can also lead to heavy fines and other corrective actions.

For example, the U.S. FTC fined Google and YouTube $170 million in 2019 to settle allegations of violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act(COPPA). This included allegedly collecting data on YouTube’s youngest users and doing so without gaining consent from parents beforehand, while the use of cookies enabled the tracking and identification of underage users for targeted advertising.