12-Year-Old Girl Accuses TikTok of Illegally Abusing Children’s Data

12-Year-Old Girl Accuses TikTok of Illegally Abusing Children’s Data
TikTok logos are seen on smartphones in front of a displayed ByteDance logo in a file illustration picture. (Dado Ruvic/Illustration/Reuters)
Mary Clark

A 12-year-old girl from London is planning to bring legal action on behalf of all children who are, or were, users of the short video-sharing app TikTok.

According to a judgment (pdf) handed down on Wednesday by judge Justice Warby, the claim alleges that Tik Tok and its “effective predecessor,” Musical.ly, broke EU and UK law when they “misused the claimant’s private information and processed the claimant’s personal data.”

‘Litigation Friend’

The unnamed 12-year-old is being supported by England’s Children’s Minister, Anne Longfield who is acting as a “litigation friend” for the girl.

The “representative action” for “loss of control of personal data” is also to be on behalf of all under 16’s who have used the Tik Tok app.

Charles Ciumei, QC, representing commissioner Longfield reportedly said in written submissions to the court  that Tik Tok was “targeted specifically at children” and that their data was used “to garner advertising revenue from corporate clients.”

The allegedly illegally processed data, he said, includes names, dates of birth, geographical location, images, videos, and “device information, IP address [and] information from connected accounts such as Facebook.”

“The personal data at issue is used in an algorithm which analyses the user’s preferences in order to tailor the content presented to them to capture and keep their attention,” he reportedly said.
“This encourages use of the app and, although it is stated in the terms of service that it is not for use by those under 13 years old, it is clear that a large number of users are under that age,” he added.

‘Hostile’ Social Media Influencers

The 12-year-old claimant was granted anonymity by judge Warby to protect her from “a risk of direct online bullying by other children or users of TikTok.”

Also, from the risk of “negative or hostile reactions from social media influencers who might feel their status or earnings were under threat.”

He said she would likely face pressure because her planned suit contained “serious criticisms of what may be key aspects of the platform’s mode of operation.”

Therefore, he said, “Opposition from some users of TikTok is only to be expected.”

“It is fair to anticipate that ... would be strongly worded,” he added.

The TikTok app has had over 1.9 billion downloads worldwide with over 3.7 million active UK users who spend an average daily time on the app of 41 minutes.

Spying Tool for CCP

TikTok has come under staunch opposition in recent months. Its critics warn that the app could be used as a spying tool for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The company has denied these claims and sought to distance itself from its Beijing owner, pointing to its American board members and new chief executive.

It says its servers are located in the United States and Singapore which maintains a close relationship with the CCP.

Chinese security laws, however, compel companies to cooperate with intelligence agencies when asked and in July Casey Fleming, CEO of intelligence and security strategy firm BlackOps Partners described TikTok’s claim that it could simply refuse to comply with such laws as “propaganda and gaslighting.”
The U. S. administration and some members of the U.S. Congress say TikTok is a national security threat because of its sharing of data with the CCP and the country’s Commerce Department issued an effective ban on TikTok that was supposed to take effect on Nov. 12, but the move was later blocked by courts.

The administration is negotiating with ByteDance to sell its U.S. assets to Walmart and Oracle.

The anonymous 12-year-old’s planned action against TikTok and Musical.ly is also being brought against four other TikTok- linked companies, namely TikTok Information Technologies, TikTok Technology, Bytedance, and internet giant and owner of TikTok, Beijing Bytedance Technology Co.

Bytedance had not responded to a request for comment at the time of this report.

A spokesperson for TikTok, however, said in an email to The Epoch Times that “Privacy and safety are top priorities for TikTok and we have robust policies, processes, and technologies in place to protect all users, and our younger users in particular.”

“As this [court] application was made without notice, we first became aware of the application and the High Court’s judgment earlier today and are currently considering its implications.”

Before taking a final decision whether to continue with the claim children’s commissioner Longfield is awaiting the outcome of a similar action over data breaches against Google, which is currently pending in the court of appeal.

Cathy He and Petr Svab contributed to this report.
This report was updated on Dec.31 with a comment from TikTok.