Video-sharing social networking service TikTok is being sued for billions of dollars over its alleged mishandling of children’s data.
TikTok, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, has more than 800 million users worldwide. Internal company data from July 2020 reported by the New York Times showed 18 million TikTok users were aged 14 years or younger.
The claim against the company has been filed by Anne Longfield, children’s commissioner for England, on behalf of the millions of minors in the UK and the EU who have used TikTok since May 25, 2018, whether they have a TikTok account or not.
In the legal challenge, TikTok is accused of harvesting children’s personal information without sufficient notice, transparency, or the consent required under British and European Union law.
Children’s data that the company allegedly mishandles includes biometric information, location data, videos, and phone numbers.
If the claim is successful, minor users could each receive thousands of pounds. Children who used TikTok but who do not wish to be included in the suit can opt out of being represented.
Longfield told the BBC that TikTok’s data collection practices were “shadowy” and “excessive” compared to those of other social media companies.
“TikTok is a hugely popular social media platform that has helped children keep in touch with their friends during an incredibly difficult year. However, behind the fun songs, dance challenges and lip-sync trends lies something far more sinister,” said Longfield.
According to the children’s commissioner, TikTok is “a data collection service that is thinly veiled as a social network” and has “deliberately and successfully deceived parents.”
Tom Southwell, partner at law firm Scott and Scott, which filed the claim against TikTok, said the social media company’s data collection policies were in “severe breach of UK and EU data protection law.”
TikTok said the case brought against it by Longfield is baseless. In a statement shared by the BBC, the company said: “Privacy and safety are top priorities for TikTok and we have robust policies, processes and technologies in place to help protect all users, and our teenage users in particular. We believe the claims lack merit and intend to vigorously defend the action.”