The popular short video app TikTok, operated by the world’s most valuable start-up ByteDance, is under investigation in Britain over its handling of children’s data privacy, marking the latest regulatory hurdle for the company amid its rapid overseas expansion. The UK regulator is investigating the app’s open messaging system, which allows adults to contact children, and how private information from minors is collected and stored, Elizabeth Denham, head of the UK Information Commissioner’s Office, said in a parliamentary committee hearing earlier this week. “We are looking at the transparency tools for children,” said Denham. “We’re looking at the messaging system, which is completely open, we’re looking at the kind of videos that are collected and shared by children online. So we do have an active investigation into TikTok right now, so you can watch that space.” Denham said the agency is investigating whether TikTok violated the EU’s data privacy law, called GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), which requires companies to provide specific protections related to children’s personal data. “We are committed to protecting the safety and privacy of our user community,” said a TikTok spokeswoman on Friday. “We will cooperate with regulatory authorities to provide relevant information in response to their inquiries.” TikTok, known as Douyin in mainland China, has become a global hit and allows users to watch and create short videos with music, stickers and animation as special effects. It has become one of the most heavily downloaded apps worldwide since it was launched in 2016, but rapid growth has also come with a host of regulatory issues in different overseas markets including the US, India and Indonesia. The UK investigation follows a similar inquiry by the Federal Trade Commission in the US in February, after which ByteDance agreed to pay a US$5.7 million fine over TikTok’s illegal collection of personal information from children. It was the largest penalty handed down in a children’s privacy investigation, according to the FTC. It said TikTok, which had merged with Musical.ly in August last year after the karaoke app was acquired by ByteDance, failed to obtain parental consent from users under the age of 13, based on the country’s Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. A statement from TikTok at that time expressed commitment to “creating measures” that will protect users, including tools for parents to safeguard their kids’ information. China’s ByteDance poaches Facebook veteran to help drive TikTok’s overseas business Meanwhile, TikTok was banned in April in India, a market where the app is estimated by ByteDance to have more than 120 million registered users, on the grounds that it encouraged pornography before authorities later lifted the restrictions. In July last year, authorities in Indonesia blocked TikTok for containing “pornography, inappropriate content and blasphemy” before they lifted the ban after TikTok agreed to remove “all negative content” from the app. Despite the regulatory setbacks, ByteDance has kept up the pace of TikTok’s global expansion. Last month the company hired a senior executive from social media giant Facebook, Blake Chandlee, as TikTok’s head of strategic partnerships.