Twenty lawsuits have been combined into a unified federal class action lawsuit against short-form video app TikTok over allegedly harvesting data from users who are mostly children and secretly sending that information to China. According to an NPR news report, dozens of minors through their parents are alleging that the video-sharing app collects information about their facial characteristics, locations and close contacts and quietly sends that data to servers in China.
Twenty separate but similar lawsuits were filed over the past year on behalf of TikTok users in California where the company has offices, and Illinois, which requires that tech companies get written consent from users before collecting their data. The suits have now been merged into one.
A Serious Security Threat
Plaintiffs’ lawyers are asking to expand the lawsuit into a nationwide class action potentially affecting tens of millions of users in the United States. TikTok has denied these allegations. But the company is under a lot of pressure because the Trump Administration has also open called TikTok a national security threat. TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is based in China. President Trump has threatened to shut down TikTok in the United States if it is not sold to an American suitor by Sept. 15.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys hired technological experts who reportedly studied the collection and journey of TikTok’s data. They say troves of information are being sent out to servers in China under the control of third parties who cooperate with the Chinese government. Such information reveals users’ precise location, including possibly indoor locations within buildings.
Collecting Information Without Consent
They also collect information about users’ physical or mental health, religious views, political opinions and sexual orientation, the complaint states. Attorneys say as soon as someone downloads TikTok, it begins to collect data, even before the user opens an account. If a user begins making a video but does not save it, data in the video is still mined by the app. This is clearly a violation of the law because TikTok is not getting written consent from its users before taking all this data, the complaint states.
There is no question that collecting information without users’ consent, especially kids’ information, is deeply disturbing. We hope this class action exposes the truth about what TikTok is actually doing in terms of mining data and where they are sending user data. Our California class action lawyers will be closely following this issue.