TikTok faces billion-pound legal battle over "illegal" data collection

The video-sharing platform is accused of collecting personal data belonging to millions of children in Europe

TikTok could be forced to pay out billions in damages if it’s proven that the video-sharing social media platform illegally harvested data belonging to millions of European children.

The class action, led by a 12-year old girl who has been awarded anonymity in the case, is to be heard in London’s High Court next week. If proven that TikTok parent company ByteDance illegally collected personal data for the profit of undisclosed third parties, those affected could receive thousands of pounds each.

TikTok is used by 100 million people in Europe and 17 million reside in the UK, of which almost one in five (18%) are under the age of 18. According to former children's commissioner for England Annie Longfield, ByteDance should be forced to compensate every minor that has used TikTok since 25 May 2018.

“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," said Longfield, who serves as a “litigation friend” representing the case.

However, a spokesperson for TikTok told Reuters that the claims “lack merit” and that the company intends to “vigorously defend the action”.

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Commenting on the case, digital privacy expert Attila Tomaschek said that “it's no surprise that TikTok has vehemently denied the lawsuit’s claims”.

“The reality is that if the allegations are true, TikTok would be in direct violation of both UK and European data protection laws,” he added.

“It’s unacceptable for a platform like TikTok to engage so opaquely in excessive data collection practices that put consumer privacy at risk, but when that data collection involves the sensitive personal information of children, the situation is even more problematic. 

"The fact is, this isn’t the first time TikTok has been reprimanded for the mishandling of children’s data either. Young TikTok users and their parents need to understand that the platform feeds on their personal data.  If they’re not being vigilant in protecting their personal information, and if data protection laws fail to hold firms like TikTok accountable for their data collection practices, their privacy will remain at risk,” added Tomaschek.

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