Class-Action Lawsuit Adds to TikTok Drama

Posted on August 5, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Social with 12 Comments

A class-action lawsuit involving 20 US-based families claims that TikTok steals private data and sends it to servers in China. Lawyers representing the families would like to expand the case nationwide, a change that could potentially involve millions of users.

The class-action lawsuit arose out of separate but similar federal lawsuits filed over the past year, starting in California, according to NPR. In each case, parents claim that the explosively popular social networking mobile app collected information about their children that includes facial characteristics, locations, and close contacts, and then “quietly” sent that data to servers in China.

TikTok denies the claims.

“The [TikTok] app’s privacy policy fully discloses that user data will be shared with TikTok’s corporate affiliates and third-party business partners and service providers, as is standard with free social networking apps that have a business model based on advertising,” a lawyer representing the firm said.

As for the “sending data to China” bit, NPR points out that nobody, including the US government, has ever provided direct evidence of TikTok sending data about American citizens to China or, more dramatically, the Chinese Community Party. Instead, TikTok uses Virginia-based servers for its US-based users, and that data is backed up to servers in Singapore. TikTok has said publicly that no data collected from American users has ever been sent to servers or authorities in China.

The class-action lawsuit challenges those assertions. “Technology experts” hired by the lawyers studied TikTok’s data collection and claim that data is being sent “sent to servers in China under the control of third-parties who cooperate with the Chinese government.” There’s no explanation of how they arrived at this conclusion.

“Such information reveals TikTok users’ precise physical location, including possibly indoor locations within buildings, and TikTok users’ apps that possibly reveal mental or physical health, religious views, political views, and sexual orientation,” a legal filing explains.

TikTok says these experts are “factually mistaken.”

“The present lawsuit is based on (and quotes) the same anti-Chinese rhetoric, conjecture, supposition, and innuendo that originated with these political and competitive attacks,” the firm’s lawyers countered.

So there we go. Back and forth, same as ever.

But more important, this is another great example of why Microsoft should never acquire any TikTok assets. It’s just not worth the trouble.

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