TikTok, the social media app owned by Chinese company ByteDance, is facing a UK lawsuit that could see it forced to pay damages of billions of pounds if it is successful. The lawsuit, brought by legal firm Scott and Scott and backed by a former British children's commissioner, claims that the company collects a huge range of children's personal information when they use the app. As well as harvesting their pictures and videos, it is claimed the app also collects children's phone numbers, specific location details and biometric data which it then sells to third parties for profit.
British Children Data Harvested
Parents and children are likely to be shocked by the revelations, as well as privacy regulators, since the app is used by a huge number of teenagers. According to the UKs media regulator OfCom, it is estimated that almost 45% of children aged between 8 and 12 use the app which represents about 3.5 million children in the UK alone and is likely to be potentially millions more across Europe as a whole.
The lawsuit claims that children's personal information was harvested without explicit consent being gained (which, in the case of children under the age of 18, would need to come from an adult) and constitutes a serious breach of both UK and EU privacy provisions, according to one of the lawyers acting for the plaintiffs in the case.
This is not the first time that the ByteDance's data protection policies have been challenged and Tiktok sued. In 2019 the US Federal Trade Commission levied a record fine of $5.7 million against the company for similar offences of illegally gathering children's personal information. It has also come under scrutiny in India where it was temporarily banned and finally blocked completely from the country. TikTok is also under investigation by the UK Information Commissioner's Office for whether it complies with the UK's data protection rules and whether it protects children's right to data privacy with a report expected later in the year.
TikTok claims that it is only intended for users over the age of 13 but it is claimed that the app is being used by much younger children since all they need to do is enter an older age as there is no additional checking performed by the app. Lawyers are seeking thousands of pounds of compensation for each child, seeking that the app meet its user age requirements as well as demanding that the company provide full transparency about the data it collects and the purposes it is used for.