US Taking TikTok to Court for Spying on Americans

A U.S. district court has slapped a sizable lawsuit on TikTok. (Image:  pixabay  /  CC0 1.0)
A U.S. district court has slapped a sizable lawsuit on TikTok. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Recently, a U.S. district court slapped a sizable lawsuit on TikTok, the popular social media news app company. The company was charged for violating the privacy and personal data of its users. TikTok’s parent company is Beijing ByteDance Technology Co., although the software is not available in China. The video app has become a fashionable entertainment app among teens and young adults the world over.

Class-action lawsuit

A class-action lawsuit was initiated against TikTok for pre-installing “Chinese surveillance software.” The lawsuit states: “TikTok clandestinely has vacuumed up and transferred to servers in China vast quantities of private and personally-identifiable user data that can be employed to identify, profile, and track the location and activities of users in the United States now and in the future. TikTok also has surreptitiously taken user content, such as draft videos never intended for publication, without user knowledge or consent. In short, TikTok’s lighthearted fun comes at a heavy cost.”

Stolen information

It started when a college student and resident of Palo Alto, California, downloaded the TikTok app in early 2019. But she didn’t create an account. The student discovered that TikTok had automatically created an account for her, without consent. TikTok generated a file containing her private information, including biological data. Information gathered from videos she created but didn’t post were all contained within the filing system.

TikTok transferred the user data to two servers in China. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

TikTok transferred the user data to two servers in China. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

According to archives, TikTok transferred the user data to two servers in China — bugly.qq.com and umeng.com — in April 2019. Bugly is owned by one of China’s most influential mobile software companies, Tencent. It also owns the social network WeChat and Umeng is also part of the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group. The lawsuit claimed that the source code from Chinese tech giant Baidu is embedded within the TikTok app. The company has denied the allegations.

Indian government calls for a ban of TikTok

Last year, TikTok was banned by the Madras High Court, India, which was then later lifted. Now, with the CCP virus spreading like wildfire across the globe, the Indian government has taken up the initiative again to ban TikTok. More than 10,000 tweets have been received in support of the ban in less than 10 hours.

Directors of BJP’s (Bharatiya Janata Party — the ruling party) Information Technology department and individuals within the Publicity Strategist Department in the Uttar Pradesh government have also demanded a TikTok ban. Uttar Pradesh is one of the larger states in India, with over 200 million people.

Advocate Varsha Madhukar announced that TikTok is on the government’s radar since it posed a significant security risk. He said: “Our important data is going to China, which has increased the risk of cybercrime.” Renu Mathur, a well known social activist expressed that because of TikTok, “our children are accessing pornography and are getting involved in communal violence and religious hatred.”

In April last year, U.S. Republican Senator Josh Howley submitted a bill in the Senate to ban all federal government devices from using the Chinese social media app.

Freedom of speech 

Moreover, TikTok was forced to publicly apologize for removing a video about the treatment of Muslims in China. TikTok is notorious for suppressing freedom of speech and actively bans religious minorities from its platform.

TikTok is notorious for suppressing freedom of speech. (Image: Joffers951 via Wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0)

Posts promoting Falun Gong, a Buddhist qigong practice, is a violation of terms because the practice is, according to TikTok, an evil cult. This is parroting the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) line regarding Falun Gong, which the Party has tried to wipe out from China since 1999.

The app responded as to whether it supports the CCP’s censorship on freedom of speech and belief by saying that it “would not do so if asked.”

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