The former children’s commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, has lodged a claim in the high court over how TikTok collects and uses children’s data. The claim is brought on behalf of millions of children in the UK and the European Economic Area who have used TikTok since 25 March 2018.

TikTok, the video-sharing social networking app owned by Chinese company ByteDance, is accused of violating “UK and EU children’s data protection law and deceiving parents about how exposed their children’s private information is when they use the app”. Even before this legal challenge, there have been concerns regarding TikTok’s data collection – in 2019, the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office investigated TikTok’s handling of children’s personal information and, separately, ByteDance was given a record $5.7m fine by the Federal Trade Commission for mishandling children's data.

The legal claim alleges that TikTok takes children’s personal information without sufficient warning, transparency or the necessary consent required by law, and without parents and children knowing what is being done with their personal data. Longfield stated that "parents and children have a right to know that private information, including phone numbers, physical location, and videos of their children are being illegally collected". The case affects potentially more than 3.5 million children in the UK alone.

According to Ofcom, 44% of eight to 12-year-olds in the UK use TikTok, despite its policies forbidding under-13s on the platform. TikTok’s privacy policy states that it collects information “you share with us from third-party social network providers, and technical and behavioural information about your use of the platform”. The privacy policy states that TikTok also collects information from the user’s phone book if access is granted. Information may be shared with service providers and business partners for purposes including advertising and marketing, according to the policy. Longfield claims TikTok’s business model with respect to personal data is “disproportionate”, and that “Kids can’t give consent.”

The claim seeks to "put a stop to TikTok's shadowy data collection practices", and require that the platform deletes all private information "illegally processed" when the app is used by children. TikTok in response maintained it has robust policies, processes and technologies in place to help protect all users.

Governments around the world have started to take a hard line on protecting children online. The UK recently introduced a draft of its Online Safety Bill, which will set out duty of care requirements for tech platforms and, combined with legal challenges like the claim brought by Longfield, could establish a robust framework for social media companies’ responsibilities towards children and their data.

This article was written by Olivia Ward