TikTok is facing a potential legal claim in the U.K. brought by the former Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, on behalf of millions of children in the U.K. and EEA who have used the social media app. Claimants in the action could be entitled to over $1 billion pounds in damages.
This action follows fines issued by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in 2019 and the Korea Communications Commission in South Korea in 2020 for mishandling children’s data. TikTok has also previously been investigated by the U.K.’s Information Commissioner’s Office, which ordered TikTok in 2019 to delete data associated with a linked app and set up an age verification system for that function.
The present claim, which is before the High Court of Justice of England and Wales, alleges that TikTok collects excessive data from children, including location and biometric data, while failing to properly warn users about the use of their data or obtain genuine consent as required by law. Despite the app having a minimum age of 13, the U.K. regulator Ofcom noted last year in its annual report into online behavior, “Online Nation,” that 42% of those aged eight to 12 in the U.K. use TikTok.
The success of this action is at least partially contingent on an appeal before the U.K.’s Supreme Court that involves the question of whether claims brought by former Which? director Richard Lloyd on behalf of four million iPhone users that allege they were unlawfully tracked by Google were sufficiently common to be heard as a class action.
Irrespective of success, the threat of action and negative publicity for TikTok still serve as a reminder to all online platforms and app developers that it is insufficient to simply state that your platform has a minimum age requirement and expect that it will protect against claims or actions from regulators. Even if an app is not directly targeted at children, and may only involve incidental use of children’s data, it is still imperative to consider children’s online safety and put the necessary safeguards in place.