TikTok has been in the spotlight recently, but not in a good way. People are concerned about the way the app harvests user information, particularly data from children.
The video-sharing app, which is owned by ByteDance, is among the most downloaded apps 🕺 in both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. Its vast user base naturally provides a treasure trove of data from all over the world.
The app was sued in the U.S. last year for allegedly collecting kids’ data and sending it to server farms in China. ByteDance chose to settle those lawsuits earlier this year in what lawyers called one of “the largest privacy-related payouts in history.”
TikTok is now facing another lawsuit over the collection of children’s data—this time in the UK. The claim was filed by a former children’s commissioner for England, who alleged that TikTok illegally collects 🧻 the personal information of its underage users.
TikTok Faces Lawsuit in the UK
Anne Longfield, who was children’s commissioner for England from March 2015 to February 2021, has filed a claim in the high court on behalf of millions of kids in the UK and the European Economic Area who have used TikTok over the past three years.
Longfield alleges that TikTok is breaching UK 🇬🇧 and EU 🇪🇺 children’s data protection laws. Her goal is to stop the service from processing children’s personal information and force it to delete all such existing data. She also wants TikTok to pay compensation, which she believes could run into billions of pounds.
“We’re not trying to say that it’s not fun. Families like it. It’s been something that’s been really important over lockdown. It’s helped people keep in touch; they’ve had lots of enjoyment,” Longfield told the press. “But my view is that the price to pay for that shouldn’t be there—for their personal information to be illegally collected en masse and passed on to others, most probably for financial gain, without them even knowing about it.”
The suit alleges that TikTok harvests children’s data without sufficient warning, transparency, or the necessary consent required by law. It claims that parents and children don’t even know what is being done with their private data. The claim believes more than 3.5 million children 👶 in the UK alone could have been affected.
In response to Longfield’s allegations, a TikTok spokesperson said: “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.”
Longfield argues that children can’t give consent and that TikTok’s business model of collecting and selling personal data was “disproportionate.” She believes her case could be a landmark in establishing a framework 📜 for social media networks’ responsibilities to kids and families.
Children and Social Media
Every social media platform has a minimum age requirement of 13, but it’s no secret that kids younger than 13 are on these networks. A 2020 report by Ofcom found that a whopping 42% of UK eight to twelve-year-olds used TikTok! The research also showed 70% of children aged 12 to 15 and 19% of children aged 8 to 11 had social media accounts despite the minimum age requirement.
Children are the next frontier for social media networks, and some platforms have even started to invest in that demographic. For example, Instagram is reportedly working on developing a version of the photo-sharing app for kids under 13 in an effort to keep them off its main platform.
“The reality is that kids are online,” said Facebook spokeswoman Stephanie Otway. “They want to connect with their family and friends, have fun and learn, and we want to help them do that in a way that is safe and age-appropriate.”
There have long been concerns about data collection 🕵️ by social media companies like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is reportedly already investigating how TikTok collects and uses children’s personal information.
What Happens Next?
Longfield’s case is still in its early stages. However, the fact that TikTok quite recently settled a similar lawsuit in the U.S. for $92 million 💵 does not bode well for the company. The settlement in the U.S. case was for 21 proposed class-action lawsuits. It applies to 89 million U.S. users whose data was reportedly harvested and sold to advertisers by TikTok in violation of state and federal laws.
Data privacy laws in the UK and the European Economic Area are much more stringent, and TikTok may have a harder time settling this new case. Longfield is correct when she said the outcome of this case will likely affect how all other social media networks collect data from users.