TikTok in Legal Dispute Over Collection of Children’s Data
TikTok, the social media app popular among a younger smartphone-using demographic, is once again finding itself the focus of data protection abuse claims. Former Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, is alleging that TikTok is unlawfully processing children’s personal data, violating the General Data Protection Regulations in the process.
The lawsuit alleges that TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance, collects excessive user data, much of which is not necessary to enable TikTok to provide its service, but is instead useful to its advertisers. Ofcom figures suggest that 44% of children aged between 8 and 12 have active accounts with the platform, yet the policies contain unfair terms or misleading practices.
In February 2021 the European Consumer Organisation issued a statement that urged regulators to take action to investigate TikTok’s conduct over how children are able to access the service, as well as contending that the company is breaching several consumer rights and is failing to protect children from advertising and inappropriate content. Monique Goyens, Director General of The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), said, “In just a few years, TikTok has become one of the most popular social media apps with millions of users across Europe. But TikTok is letting its users down by breaching their rights on a massive scale. We have discovered a whole series of consumer rights infringements and therefore filed a complaint against TikTok.”
While TikTok stipulates that its users must be aged 12 or older, preventing underage users from creating accounts while allowing those eligible to use the service is a difficult problem to solve, but one that may prove costly if not done properly; in 2019 parent company ByteDance was fined $5.7m (£4.3m) by the Federal Trade Commission when it was found to be committing a similar offence in the United States.
TikTok has consistently defended its practices, saying that they have taken several steps to ensure that their users are protected, and that users meet the minimum age requirement.
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