TikTok is dealing with a legal challenge from former kid’s commissioner for England Anne Longfield over how it collects and makes use of kid’s data.
The claim is being filed on behalf of millions of kids in the UK and EU who have used the vastly famous video-sharing app.
If successful, the kids affected could each be owed heaps of pounds.
TikTok stated the case was without merit and it would battle it out.
Lawyers will allege that TikTok takes kid’s private information, such as cellphone numbers, videos, precise location, and biometric data, without sufficient warning, transparency, or the vital consent required by law, and without kids or their parents understanding what is being done with that information.
In response, the video-sharing app said: “Privacy and protection are top priorities for TikTok and we have strong policies, approaches, and technologies in place to help shield all users and our teenage users in particular. We consider the claims lack advantage and intend to vigorously defend the action.”
TikTok has more than 800 million users globally and parent firm ByteDance made billions in earnings last year, with the vast majority of that coming through advertising and marketing revenue.
The claim is being launched on behalf of all kids who have used TikTok from 25 May 2018, regardless of whether they have an account or their privacy settings. Children no longer wishing to be represented can opt-out.
Ms. Longfield informed the BBC she was focusing on TikTok because, while all social media platforms gathered information, TikTok had “excessive” data collection policies.
“TikTok is a vastly popular social media platform that has helped kids keep in contact with their buddies during a highly challenging year. However, behind the exciting songs, dance challenges, and lip-sync trends lie something far more sinister.”
She claims the firm is “a data collection service that is thinly veiled as a social network” which has “deliberately and efficiently deceived parents”.
She added that those parents have a “right to know” what personal data is being collected by using TikTok’s “shadowy data collection practices”.
Scott and Scott is the law firm representing the case. Partner Tom Southwell stated he believed the data amassed by TikTok represents “an extreme breach of UK and EU data protection law”.
“TikTok and ByteDance’s advertising and marketing revenue are built on the private data of its users, including children. Earning from this data without fulfilling its legal obligations, and its ethical obligation to protect kids online is unacceptable.”
The case is not without precedent.
In 2019, the Chinese firm was given a record $5.7m fine by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), for mishandling children data.
The firm has been fined in South Korea over how it collects children’s data, and in the UK, it has been investigated by the Information Commissioner’s Office.
That action revolved around Musical.ly, which was integrated into TikTok, knowingly hosting content posted by users below the age of 13.
TikTok was ordered to delete the information and set up an age verification system.
According to Ofcom, 44% of eight to 12-year-olds in the UK use TikTok, regardless of its policies forbidding under-13s on the platform.
The legal motion against TikTok was first delivered by an anonymous 12-year-old female last year, supported by Ms. Longfield.
At the time, Ms. Longfield stated she was waiting to see the outcome of another case before proceeding with suing TikTok.
The case in query was brought by Which? director Richard Lloyd on behalf of 4 million iPhone users who, he alleges, were illegally tracked by Google.
Despite launching in 2017, the case has still not had the go-ahead and is due to be heard by the Supreme Court soon.
“It could be hard for similar cases to prevail in the Supreme Court dismisses Mr. Lloyd’s capacity to bring his claim,” stated Richard Leedham, an associate at law firm Mishcon de Reya.