Social media giant TikTok is facing a legal challenge brought on behalf of all children who use the hugely-popular video-sharing app.
A 12-year-old girl from London, who cannot be identified, plans to bring a damages claim for alleged misuse of personal information and breaches of data protection laws.
The challenge is against the firms said to be behind TikTok and its ‘predecessor’ app Musical.ly. The girl is also seeking the deletion of her data.
It is alleged that the firms ‘have misused the claimant’s private information and processed the claimant’s personal data’ in breach of EU and UK data protection laws, according to a High Court ruling published on Wednesday.
The Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield intends to bring a ‘representative’ action on behalf of all other under-16s who use the Chinese app, Mr Justice Warby was told at a remote High Court hearing yesterday.
At the remote hearing, lawyers for the 12-year-old said TikTok, which has reportedly been downloaded over two billion times worldwide, was unlawfully processing children’s personal data ‘in order to garner advertising revenue from corporate clients’.
Her barrister Charles Ciumei QC 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 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.’
At the brief hearing, Mr Ciumei asked Mr Justice Warby to grant anonymity to his client before she formally issues her claim, arguing that allowing her to be identified posed ‘a real risk of negative effects on both the online presence of the claimant, and potentially their family, as well as their day-to-day life’.
In his ruling, granting the child anonymity, the judge said: ‘I readily accept that this action is likely to attract a good deal of attention.
‘It is a direct challenge to the practices of a very well-known and highly influential social media platform.
‘It is reasonable to suppose that some of that attention would be focused on the claimant, if their identity was known.’
He said the girl’s proposed claim ‘involves serious criticisms of what may be key aspects of the platform’s mode of operation’, adding: ‘Opposition from some users of TikTok is only to be expected.
‘It is fair to anticipate that some such opposition would be strongly-worded.’
Last night, a TikTok spokesman said: ‘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 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.’