TikTok, the hugely popular video app, and its Chinese parent ByteDance could bring billions of pounds (dollars) of damages to the London High Court on allegations that they illegally harvested the private data of millions of European children.
Anne Longfield, the former England Children’s Commissioner and so-called “litigator” or public face of an anonymous 12-year-old girl who led the class action, said on Wednesday that affected children could receive thousands of pounds each if the claim is successful.
Longfield alleged that any child who has been using TikTok since May 25, 2018 may have illegally collected ByteDance’s private personal information through TikTok for the benefit of unknown third parties.
“Parents and children have the right to know that their children’s private information, including phone numbers, physical locations and videos, is being collected illegally,” she said as a website detailing the case goes live.
A representative from TikTok said privacy and security are the top priorities for the company and there are solid policies, processes and technology in place to protect all users, especially teenagers.
“We believe the allegations are unfounded and intend to vigorously defend the lawsuit,” said the agent.
TikTok is one of the world’s most popular apps – especially among young people – and has around 100 million users in Europe alone. The COVID-19 pandemic that locked many children at home has contributed to their success.
However, the applicants advised by Scott & Scott law firm allege that TikTok violated UK and European Union privacy laws by processing teenagers’ data without adequate security, transparency, parenting consent or legitimate interest .
The claim demands that the company wipe all children’s personal information – and it says that damage can run into “billions” if successful.
Such US American “opt-out” data protection class actions, which automatically include a defined group in a lawsuit, unless individuals unsubscribe, are rare in the UK.
The case has been put on hold pending a ruling by the UK Supreme Court on a major case against internet giant Google (TogetL.O) on alleged illegal tracking of iPhone users in 2011 and 2012 by third-party cookies.
That case will be heard next week.
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