The popular social media platform TikTok is facing a class-action lawsuit from a California college student. Misty Hong is accusing the Chinese company of transferring private user data to servers in China, in spite of its assurances to the contrary.
Filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California, the lawsuit alleges that TikTok surreptitiously “vacuumed up and transferred to servers in China vast quantities of private and personally-identifiable user data.”
This is the latest in a string of legal troubles that have hit the video-sharing social media platform in recent months. Last month the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) opened a national security investigation into TikTok. The CFIUS was concerned that TikToks’s parent company Bytedance, did not seek regulatory clearance or approval in 2017 when it purchased and merged its American rival Musical.ly for $1bn (£770m, €900m).
Miss Hong claims that she downloaded the TikTok app this spring but never actually created an account. Months later, however, she alleges that TikTok had created an account for her and had produced a dossier of private information about her, including biometric data compiled from videos she had made but never posted.
The filing also alleges that TikTok transferred user data to two servers in China – bugly.qq.com and umeng.com – this data included any websites the user had visited and information about the user’s device. Bugly and Umeng are owned by Tencent and Alibaba respectively, two of the largest corporations in China, with strong links to the Chinese government.
Furthermore, the lawsuit alleges that source code from lgexin is embedded within the TikTok app. Two years ago, security researchers discovered that lgexin was enabling developers to install spyware on a user’s phone.
While Washington has sought to squeeze Chinese tech firms such as Huawei as part of the ongoing trade war with Beijing, the spread of Chinese-owned apps such as TikTok pose a different threat.
American youngsters aged 16-24 make up 60 per cent of the company’s 26 million monthly users. It is unlikely that Washington will sit back and allow the data of an entire generation of Americans to potentially fall into the hands of the Chinese government through Chinese companies.
Last week TikTok issued an apology to a US teen who had been blocked from the service after posting a video clip criticising China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims.