TikTok faces billion-pound lawsuit over use of children’s data

21 Apr 2021

Image: © kovop58/Stock.adobe.com

The legal challenge is being taken by a former children’s commissioner in the UK and claims TikTok is wrongly collecting data on children.

A former children’s commissioner in England is leading a billion-pound legal challenge against TikTok over how the company collects data on users under the age of 18.

Anne Longfield has launched the legal proceedings on behalf of “millions” of children in the UK and Europe and is seeking compensation of thousands of pounds for each user.

The challenge is alleging that TikTok and its parent company ByteDance have unlawfully collected and processed data on children over the last three years without correct consent from children or parents.

This information could include telephone numbers, videos, pictures, location and biometric data.

TikTok said that the claims have no merit and that it will challenge the case.

Longfield and the law firm representing the legal challenge, Scott and Scott, said the claim, if successful, would lead to billions of pounds paid out to users.

“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,” Longfield said.

She added that parents and children have a right to know what data is being collected and how it is being used.

TikTok has around 800m users and derives a significant amount of its revenue from advertising, which is powered by data insights.

Tom Southwell, partner at Scott and Scott, said that “parents have been deliberately left in the dark by TikTok” and that this is a breach of EU and UK data protection law.

“We hope that TikTok gives serious consideration to the gravity of the concerns of millions of parents and takes considerable steps to improve their practices in light of the issues raised by the case,” he added.

TikTok, in a statement, said that privacy and safety are “top priorities” for the company.

“[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,” it said.

TikTok has faced criticisms in the past over how the data of children is handled by the social media platform. In Italy, authorities took TikTok to task over under-13s using the site after the death of a 10-year-old girl allegedly taking part in a challenge on the app. It ordered TikTok to block any users under the age of 13.

Jonathan Keane is a freelance business and technology journalist based in Dublin