A class action lawsuit in the UK is seeking billions of pounds worth of damages from TikTok and its parent company for its role in collecting child data, which is on its way to London’s High Court.
The class action suit centres on allegations that TikTok has illegally obtained the personal information of children using the TikTok social media platform since May, 2018.
The case is being brought forward by the former Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, who is seeking a payment of thousands of pounds per impacted child. Longfield says that TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance profited from the collection of child data and sold it to third parties.
“Parents and children have a right to know that private information, including phone numbers, physical location, and videos of their child are being illegally collected,” Longfield said in a statement to reporters in London.
“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,” she said.
Longfield labelled TikTok as “a data collection service thinly veiled as a social network,” that has “deliberately and successfully deceived parents.” The former Children’s Commissioner added that parents retain the “right to know” about the specifics of what she called TikTok’s “shadowy data collection practices.”
According to a report from the BBC, “lawyers will allege that TikTok takes children’s personal information including phone numbers, videos, exact location, and biometric data, without sufficient warning, transparency or the necessary consent required by law, and without children or parents knowing what is being done with that information.”
Lawsuit Seeks Billions From TikTok for Collecting Child Data
The class action seeking billions from TikTok’s collection of child data is being put forward by UK law firm, Scott and Scott, who says that its data collection methods mirror that of “a severe breach of UK and EU data protection law.”
“TikTok and ByteDance’s advertising revenue is built on the personal information of its users, including children. Profiting from this personal information without fulfilling its legal obligations, and its moral duty to protect children online, is unacceptable,” Partner Tom Southwell said.
TikTok, who has amassed a user base of more than 800 million people worldwide, has denied these accusations and said that its bottom line is underpinned by advertising revenue, not the sale of user data.
The company has issued a statement saying that “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,” the company said.
Back in 2019, TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance was fined by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for its mishandling of child data, as well as in South Korea. TikTok was forced to remove the data it had collected, and implemented an age verification system.
According to statistics from Ofcom, however, more than 44% of children aged between eight and twelve-years-old have an active TikTok profile, in spite of TikTok’s terms and conditions specifying the minimum age of 13.