Former Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield has filed a legal claim against China-owned social media app TikTok that could result in billions being paid out to UK and EU children under 13 who have had their data captured by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) affiliated company.
If the lawsuit is successful, TikTok may be ordered to pay out thousands of dollars to millions of children in the EU and UK who have used the app since May 25, 2018, resulting in a total payout that could reach into the billions.
TikTok and parent company ByteDance has denied the veracity of the claim, saying they plan to vigorously defend themselves in court, “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,” they said in a statement according to BBC.
According to the official website for the lawsuit, Longfield’s legal claim was filed in the High Court of England and Wales in December of 2020 and is currently being “stayed” pending the results of a case—Lloyd v Google—that is likely to have bearings on how the class action suit will be pursued.
“TikTok is a hugely popular app, but behind the fun songs, dance challenges and lip-sync trends lies something far more sinister,” said Longfield.
Longfield says TikTok collects date of birth, email address, telephone number, biometric data (facial recognition), and even any information the child may have provided about sexual orientation or religious belief. The information is collected without sufficient warning, transparency, or the necessary consent required by UK law.
Longfield has instructed the UK-based legal team Scott & Scott Attorneys at Law LLP to be solicitors for her legal claim. A Partner from Scott & Scott, Tom Southwell, believes that TikTok has committed a “severe breach of UK and EU data protection law.” He said, “TikTok and ByteDance’s advertising revenue is built on the personal information of its users, including children. Profiting from this information without fulfilling its legal obligations, and its moral duty to protect children online, is unacceptable.”
TikTok was previously fined $5.7 million by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2019 for mishandling children’s data. They were also investigated by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in the UK due to hosting content published by users younger than 13. The ICO then ordered TikTok to delete their under-13 users’ data and establish an age verification system. Despite the penalties, according to Ofcom, 44 percent of children aged between 8 and 12 are continuing to use TikTok despite age verification systems.
Due to national security concerns, former President Donald Trump issued an executive order on August 6, 2020, prohibiting any U.S. company from transacting with TikTok’s parent company ByteDance. Trump’s former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Chinese state-backed tech companies like TikTok are “Trojan horses for Chinese intelligence.”