TikTok, the popular short-format video app, has been hit by a class-action lawsuit by a California college student for illegally transferring user data to servers in China.
The suit has been filed by Misty Hong seeking a ban on TikTok and its Beijing-based parent company, ByteDance, from transferring any private data to unknown servers in China and harvesting biometrics of users without consent.
Hong claimed that she downloaded the app in April 2019 and made some videos but did not post them on the app, nor did she create an account. But some time later she found that the app had created an account and a profile of her without consent by accessing information from the videos she had made.
The lawsuit, filed a day before Thanksgiving at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, alleges that TikTok’s video posting policies breach privacy and federal computer fraud laws.
TikTok harvests data even after a user log offs
The lawsuit raises concerns that information gathered from the videos created from the app can be used to profile and track residents in the U.S. It states that the privacy laws of the app are ambiguous. Its earlier privacy laws explicitly stated that user data may be sent to servers in China and even after a change in its policies, data continues to be sent to China, reports Daily Beast.
The lawsuit says that the company is camouflaging the way it is transferring the data to local Chinese servers. Even when users logout of the app, it is able to harvest data, they claim. A list of servers used by the company has been submitted as evidence.
bugly and umeng are among the servers mentioned in the filing. Tencent, China’s biggest software company owns bugly and umeng is part of the Alibaba Group of companies. It is claimed that spyware has been embedded in the app.
There are growing concerns in the U.S. of the huge popularity of the video app, which till date has been downloaded by 1.5 billion users worldwide.
US investigating TikTok over national security concerns
The U.S. government is already investigating the company for possible misuse of data that it has collected of its subscribers that are mainly based out of China, and its censorship of political content.
It has been found that the Hong Kong protests against China have been totally curtailed on the app. Furthermore, moderators have been instructed to cut any politically sensitive videos and memes on the app.
The US government says there are security concerns about the data collected by the company, including access to contacts, IP addresses, location mapping, and other sensitive personal information.
Moreover, a committee on foreign investments has launched an investigation into the acquisition of Musical.ly by ByteDance, which was later renamed as TikTok. Musical.ly was a music app where one could post karaoke videos and was popular among its 60 million subscribers, mainly western teenagers.
ByteDance has responded to the security concerns saying that all its servers are based out of China in the US with backups based in Singapore.