TikTok, the popular Chinese video app is facing a lawsuit in the UK and Europe for breaching the privacy of millions of children.
The suit, for billions of pounds, accuses Tiktok and its parent company ByteDance of violating UK and European Union data protection laws by illegally collecting information about children and sharing the same with third parties.
The lawsuit has been filed by Anne Longfield, England’s former Children’s Commissioner, and demands that all personal details of children with the app be deleted.
TikTok has been collecting in-depth data of children who are using the app since 2018, regardless of the privacy settings or account status.
They have been collecting information relating to date of birth, interests, address, etc. “In terms of what they take there are addresses, names, date of birth information, their likes, their interests, who they follow, their habits — all of these — the profiling stuff, but also the exact geolocation, that is very much outside what would be deemed appropriate,” Longfield said. “You shouldn’t be doing that when it’s kids.”
The data collection was almost on an industrial scale without the children or parents realizing it, she revealed. More than 3.5 million kids have affected in the UK alone.
“We think parents and children will be shocked, and this is made much more serious for me because of the sheer scale of usage of this social media [app] by families and children of this age,” Longfield said. “According to Ofcom [the UK’s independent media regulator], 44 percent of eight to 12-year-olds use TikTok. We think there is likely to be in the region of 3.5m children in the UK alone that fall within this claim and many more across Europe.”
TikTok has been under surveillance in the EU and the US and several other countries for its policies and content.
Last year, EU data-protection regulators established a task force to get a better understanding of “TikTok’s processing and practices”. In the US in 2019, the Federal Trade Commission fined musical.ly, which was subsequently named TikTok after ByteDance bought it, nearly $5.7 million for illegally collecting data of minors.
TikTok is currently under investigation by the UK Information Commissioner’s Office for similar data violations. “The ICO has been undertaking an investigation of TikTok’s compliance with UK data protection rules, including how it protects children’s information rights. Our work is nearing its conclusion and we intend to publish our findings later this year,” a spokesperson of ICO revealed to the Financial Times.
TikTok said in a statement that the claims in the London case “lacked merit”.
“Privacy and safety are top priorities for TikTok,” the company said in the statement. “We have robust policies, processes and technologies in place to help protect all users, and our teenage users in particular.”
TikTok’s policy on data collection is listed on its website but it is claimed that TikTok and ByteDance do not share details about who has access to the data it collects.
If successful, TikTok will be forced to pay up billions to the affected children.
Longfield said she hoped the case would be a “powerful test case” and “landmark” which would be a “wake-up call” for other social media platforms. She also wants TikTok to delete the data and put new protective measures for children in place.