TikTok is facing a prospective legal challenge from a 12-year-old girl from London on how the platform handles children’s data. A damages claim is being brought forward in the 12-year-old’s name as well as a petition for the deletion of her data.
There has been a lot of criticism in the past over how major social media outfits handle user data. TikTok recently came under fire from the Trump administration, who sought to ban the platform on grounds of feeding data to the Chinese government. In February of last year, TikTok settled allegations from the US Federal Trade Commission with a $5.7 million fine. The fine was in lieu of the Musical.ly app, TikTok’s previous name, illegally collecting personal data of children under the age of 13. In May of the same year, a group of 20 advocacy groups accused TikTok of violating this settlement. This latest legal challenge, which is being backed by England’s children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield, brings in a new wave of criticism for the short-form video application.
According to the BBC, Longfield told the London High Court she hoped a case would result in TikTok being ordered to delete the plaintiff’s data, thereby setting precedent for future appeals. Justice Mark Warby granted anonymity to the girl on the grounds that if her identity were revealed she might be cyberbullied by social-media influencers who might take this case as a potential attack on their source of income. In his description of the planned suit, Warby said it “involves serious criticisms of what may be key aspects of the platform’s mode of operation.”
Technically, people under the age of 13 are not supposed to be able to make TikTok accounts, as per the application’s terms and conditions. The child’s barrister Charles Ciumei QC, however, said in written submissions, “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. This, in turn, encourages the use of the app and, although it is stated in the app’s 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 also argued that the personal data TikTok holds is “extensive”, including users’ names, dates of birth and location, as well as photographs and videos they have made with “device information, IP address, information from connected accounts such as Facebook, browsing history, cookies and metadata”.
TikTok has always claimed that the privacy and the safety of its users is its top priority. However, with this latest challenge, the evidence seems to be mounted towards the contrary.