TikTok sued over collection of children’s personal data

tik tok on mobile device

Case represents the latest in a long line of complaints against TikTok alleging violations of the GDPR.

Video-sharing app TikTok is being sued by former children’s commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, over how it collects and uses children’s data.

It is alleged that the information collected by TikTok – such as phone numbers, videos, location and biometric data – and the manner in which is it collected, represents “ a severe breach of UK and EU data protection law.”

The claim is being filed on behalf of millions of children in the UK and EU who have used the hugely popular video-sharing app, and if successful each child could be owed thousands of pounds.

It will focus on how TikTok uses children’s personal information without sufficient transparency and consent, and without children or parents knowing what is being done with that data. TikTok’s generates the vast majority of its revenues via its advertising services, which are built on the personal information of its users, many of which are children.

Ms Longfield has been quoted by the BBC as saying that TikTok has “excessive” data collection policies, and alleging that it is “a data collection service that is thinly veiled as a social network” which has “deliberately and successfully deceived parents”.

In response, TikTok has said that it has robust policies, processes and technologies in place and that it will “vigorously defend the action.”

This case represents yet another blow for TikTok, following a formal complaint from the  Foundation for Market Information Research (SOMI), an interest group in the Netherlands, to the DPC alleging violations of the GDPR, namely in relation to the processing of children’s data.

This means that the CNIL (France), the ICO (UK), Garante (Italy), the EU Consumer Organisation (BEUC), the DPC (Ireland) and the Authoriteit Person (The Netherlands) – and now Ms Longfield – have all launched separate legal cases against TikTok alleging  infringements of the GDPR.

This is alongside the curbing of use of the app in Australia and the US (pending a legal dispute between TikTok and the Trump administration and the conclusion of an investigation by the CFIUS), and a wholesale ban of the app in India, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Pakistan for privacy and moderation related issues.

Robert Wassall, Head of Legal Services at NormCyber, commented: “This dispute demonstrates the importance of providing privacy information when collecting personal data. Although this claim focuses on the collection of personal information from children, there have been a number of recent cases that focus on whether sufficient privacy information has been provided.

All organisations must understand their obligations when collecting personal data. There is no great mystery here – you must only collect the data you need, you must be transparent about how and why you do it, and you must ensure that any consent obtained is freely given. The starting point is a good Privacy Notice, and ensuring that data protection is considered from the outset – not as an afterthought.”

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