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Former children’s commissioner launches legal claim against TikTok over privacy breaches

Former children’s commissioner for England Anne Longfield is launching a billion pound claim against social media platform TikTok for illegally collecting children’s private information.

Former children's commissioner for England Anne Longfield

The legal claim launched against TikTok and parent company ByteDance is on the basis that they have for illegally collected children’s personal information while they were using the app.

Anne Longfield OBE, the claimant’s litigation friend against TikTok said: “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.

“TikTok is a data collection service that is thinly-veiled as a social network. It has deliberately and successfully deceived parents, whose best intentions are to protect their children and children themselves,” she added.

Ms Longfield, along with experienced law firm Scott + Scott, claims that every child that has used TikTok since 25 May 2018, regardless of whether they have a TikTok account or what their privacy settings are, may have had their private personal information illegally collected by Byte Dance through TikTok for the benefit of unknown third parties.

She states that this deliberately violates UK and EU children’s data protection law.

The legal claim argues that TikTok takes children’s personal information without sufficient warning, transparency or the necessary consent required by law, and without parents and children knowing what is being done with their private information.

The personal information allegedly collected by TikTok and ByteDance includes children’s telephone numbers, videos, pictures, and their exact location, along with facial recognition data, and has raised concerns over what the app is doing with this information.

Ms Longfield and law firm Scott + Scott are demanding that the company deletes all their children’s personal information. The claim also aims to win compensation for the millions of affected children, which could be thousands of pounds per child.
If successful, the damages owed by TikTok may be in the region of billions of pounds. TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, based in the Cayman Islands, is expected to make nearly $30 billion in 2020, with over two thirds of this being advertising revenue involving the transfer of personal information.

Anne Longfield said: “Parents and children have a right to know that private information, including phone numbers, physical location, and videos of their children are being illegally collected. TikTok appears set on making it as difficult as possible for millions of mothers and fathers to know who is benefiting from this information.

“We want to put a stop to TikTok’s shadowy data collection practices, and demand that they delete all private information that has been illegally processed when children use the app,” she added.

The claim alleges that TikTok and ByteDance have violated the UK Data Protection Act and the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), namely articles 5, 12, 14, 17, 25, 35 and 44 of the GDPR.

Tom Southwell, Partner at the law firm Scott + Scott, said: “The information collected by TikTok represents a severe breach of UK and EU data protection law. Children do not understand how exposed they are when they use the app, and parents have been deliberately left in the dark by TikTok.

“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.

“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.

In 2019, TikTok was issued a record fine for a case involving child data in the United States, which was followed by similar penalties in South Korea in 2020. As a result, TikTok implemented measures for its users in the United States to verify their age when they open the App. Despite this, TikTok has refrained from introducing a similar age verification policy in the UK or other European countries.

Further information on the claim can be found here.

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