TikTok could be forced to pay billions to UK children after lawsuit is filed over ‘sinister’ data collection

The TikTok app icon on an iPhone, with 99 notifications in the top right hand corner of the logo.
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The shortform video app TikTok has been sued over how it collects the personal information of children using the platform, in a legal challenge launched by Anne Longfield, former children’s commissioner for England.

Longfield, together with legal firm Scott + Scott, allege that TikTok and parent company ByteDance gathers children’s phone numbers, videos, pictures, location and facial recognition data without their consent – in breach of the UK’s Data Protection Act and the GDPR. 

The claim has been filed on behalf of “millions” of children in the UK and Europe who have used TikTok since 25 May 2018, which could see each child owed thousands of pounds each in compensation if the lawsuit is successful.

In a statement, Longfield, who is acting as a “litigation friend” for a 12-year-old girl, said: “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.

“Parents and children have a right to know that private information, including phone numbers, physical location, and videos of their children are being illegally collected. TikTok appears set on making it as difficult as possible for millions of mothers and fathers to know who is benefiting from this information.

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“We want to put a stop to TikTok’s shadowy data collection practices, and demand that they delete all private information that has been illegally processed when children use the app.”

It isn’t the first time that the Chinese app has faced legal scrutiny:

  • In February 2019, the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) began an investigation over how the app handles the personal data of children.
  • It was in this month that the US’ Federal Trade Commission (FTC) slapped TikTok with a record $5.7 million fine following a case over the privacy of younger users.
  • In May 2020, France’s data agency CNIL confirmed to TechCrunch that it was investigating TikTok.
  • That same month, the Dutch Data Authority (DPA) revealed it was looking into the app following privacy concerns.
  • In July 2020, the Korea Communications Commission (KCC) in South Korea fined TikTok ₩186 million over the collection of data from those aged under 14.
  • In early April, the Amsterdam-based organisation SOMI filed a letter of complaint calling on Ireland’s Data Protection Commission to take “immediate action” against TikTok over an alleged violation of GDPR and to “protect juveniles against the continuous hazards” present on the platform.

In response to this latest legal challenge from Longfield, TikTok told BBC News: “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.”

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