A class action lawsuit alleges that TikTok illegally collected data from children. TikTok plans to “vigorously defend the action”.
TikTok, the hugely popular video app, and its Chinese parent ByteDance could bring billions of pounds to the London High Court on charges of illegally harvesting the private data of millions of European children.
Anne Longfield, the former England Child Commissioner and so-called “litigator” or public face of an anonymous 12-year-old girl who led the class action, said on Wednesday that affected children could receive thousands of pounds each if the claim is successful.
Longfield alleged that any child who has been using TikTok since May 25, 2018 may have illegally collected ByteDance’s private personal information through TikTok for the benefit of unknown third parties.
“Parents and children have the right to know that private information, including their children’s phone numbers, physical locations and videos, is being collected illegally,” she said as a website detailing the case goes live.
A representative from TikTok said privacy and security are the top priorities for the company and there are solid policies, processes and technology in place to protect all users, especially teenagers.
“We believe the allegations are unfounded and intend to vigorously defend the lawsuit,” said the agent.
Former US President Donald Trump targeted TikTok over alleged national security concerns [File: Hollie Adams/Bloomberg]Former United States President Donald Trump ordered the sale of TikTok to an American company last year, citing national security concerns about user data falling into the hands of Chinese authorities. But several legal challenges held up a deal. The company denies the allegations.
A December 7 ruling said Trump’s executive order was likely to have exceeded its authority.
TikTok is one of the world’s most popular apps – especially among children, adolescents and young adults – and has around 100 million users in Europe alone and a similar number in the US. The COVID-19 pandemic that locked many children at home has contributed to their success.
However, the UK class action plaintiffs, advised by Scott & Scott law firm, allege TikTok has violated UK and European Union privacy laws by exploiting juvenile data without adequate security, transparency, parental consent or processed legitimate interest.
The claim demands that the company wipe out all of children’s personal information – and states that damage can be up to “billions of pounds” if successful.
Such “opt-out” data protection classes based on the US model, which automatically include a defined group in a lawsuit if this is not the case, are rare in Great Britain.
The case has been put on hold pending a ruling by the UK Supreme Court in a lawsuit against internet giant Google for alleged unlawful tracking of iPhone users through third-party cookies in 2011 and 2012.
That case will be heard next week.