The former Children’s Commissioner for England is fronting a representative action against TikTok over allegations that it illegally collected children’s private information.
Anne Longfield accuses the video-sharing app’s parent company ByteDance of deliberately violating data protection law.
She is represented by the London office of US firm Scott + Scott and is backed by an unnamed litigation funder.
She claims that every child that has used TikTok since 25 May 2018, regardless of whether they have a TikTok account or what their privacy settings are, may have had their private personal information illegally collected for the benefit of unknown third parties.
This includes children’s telephone numbers, videos, pictures and location, along with biometric data.
It says there is insufficient warning, transparency or consent, and argues that TikTok is “deliberately opaque” about who has access to the information.
The claim is on behalf of millions of children using TikTok in the UK and European Economic Area; Scott + Scott said its research estimates that over 3.5m children are affected in the UK alone.
In 2019, TikTok was fined £4.3m in the US, a record for a case involving child data. Though it then implemented age verification measures for US users, it has not done so in the UK or Europe.
Ms Longfield said the claim aimed to stop TikTok processing millions of children’s information, and force it to delete all the information it held, as well as compensation which could be thousands of pounds per child.
She said: “TikTok is a data collection service that is thinly-veiled as a social network. It has deliberately and successfully deceived parents, whose best intentions are to protect their children and children themselves.”
Scott + Scott partner Tom Southwell said: “The information collected by TikTok represents a severe breach of UK and EU data protection law. Children do not understand how exposed they are when they use the app, and parents have been deliberately left in the dark by TikTok.
“TikTok and ByteDance’s advertising revenue is built on the personal information of its users, including children. Profiting from this information without fulfilling its legal obligations, and its moral duty to protect children online, is unacceptable.”