TikTok has been hit in a class action lawsuit that could cost the company billions if successful.
Former English child commissioner Anne Longfield has filed a lawsuit against TikTok for allegedly illegally processing the personal data of millions of children. The case is part of a class action lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges that TikTok and its parent company ByteDance are “intentionally violating data protection laws for children in the UK and the EU.” Specifically, they claim TikTok has no consent to collect and process child data, and it collects this data without adequate warning.
TikTok was fined $ 5.7 million by the US Federal Trade Commission in February 2019 for handling child data on the Musical.ly app it had purchased. South Korea’s media watchdog fined TikTok £ 123,000 for collecting data from 6,000 children under the age of 14 in July 2020.
PixabayThe class action lawsuit alleges violations of child protection laws.
After the US fine, TikTok introduced a feature to check the ages of its children worldwide. In a press release announcing the lawsuit, Longfield and the law firm that falsely took over the case alleged that age verification features are only available in the United States.
TikTok has asked to delete subordinate user data
Longfield, who supports law firm Scott + Scott’s request, wants TikTok to delete the information of its UK and European child users and pay them compensation.
“TikTok is a data collection service that is hard to hide as a social network,” says Longfield. “It has deliberately and successfully deceived parents whose best intent is to protect their children and children themselves.”
Longfield and Scott + Scott claim that children’s phone numbers, videos, pictures and their location along with biometric data are collected by TikTok. The lawsuit alleges that every child user who has been using TikTok since May 25, 2018 has collected their data this way.
“The information TikTok collects constitutes a serious breach of UK and EU data protection laws,” said Tom Southwell, partner at Scott + Scott. “Children don’t understand how exposed they are when using the app, and parents were purposely left in the dark by TikTok.
“TikTok and ByteDance ad revenue is based on users’ personal information, including children,” added Southwell. “It is unacceptable to take advantage of this information without fulfilling your legal obligations and your moral obligation to protect children online.”
ByteDance Accuses “Shadow Practices”
Internal data uncovered by the New York Times shows that as of the spring of 2020, 43% of TikTok users were rated 14 or younger. At this point in time, one in three German users was also younger than 14 and 45% of French users.
Longfield and Southwell both claim that the corporate structure of TikTok, which has European headquarters in London and reports to a parent company in the Cayman Islands, is “intentionally opaque”.
“Parents and children have the right to know that their children’s private information, including phone numbers, physical locations, and videos, is being collected illegally,” Longfield says. “TikTok seems to make it as difficult as possible for millions of mothers and fathers to know who is benefiting from this information.
“We want to put an end to TikTok’s shady data collection practices and demand that all private information that has been illegally processed when children are using the app be deleted.”
Unsplash: Oliver BergeronThe lawsuit involves UK and EU children in the app, who are protected by relevant data protection laws.
The law firm and Longfield invite the parents of 3.5 million UK children who believe they may be affected to join the lawsuit.
TikTok: Privacy and Security “Priorities”
Some child safety experts aren’t keen on the action. “Unless they have new evidence that has eluded the experts, it seems like another attempt to target the new child in the class,” says Eva Fog Noer, a Danish child safety expert.
A TikTok spokesperson said, “Privacy and security are TikTok’s top priorities. We have solid policies, processes, and technology in place to protect all users, especially our teenage users. We believe the allegations are unfounded and we intend to vigorously defend the lawsuit. “