The social media application TikTok is facing new legal challenges as families are now suing the company. So many, in fact, that it’s turned into a major legal action in federal court. According to news sources, dozens of minors, through their parents, are alleging that the video-sharing app collects information about their facial characteristics, locations and close contacts—and quietly sends that data to servers in China.
20 separate but similar federal lawsuits were filed over the past year on behalf of TikTok users in California, where the company has offices, and Illinois, which requires that technology companies receive written consent before collecting data on a person’s identity. And this week, a panel of federal judges ruled that the case will be based in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
Plaintiffs’ lawyers will be asking to expand the suit into a nationwide class action, potentially affecting tens of millions of American users.
While TikTok flatly denies the allegations, the company is under intense pressure to avoid a long, drawn-out legal battle. The federal government now considers TikTok a national security threat because its parent company, ByteDance, is based in China. TikTok is fighting to have the privacy lawsuit dismissed. But if it survives, the suit could cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars.
TikTok said its primary servers for its U.S. users are in Virginia and its backup servers are in Singapore. The company said no data collected on Americans ever goes to servers or authorities in China.
But that contradicts the findings of technology experts hired by the plaintiffs’ attorneys. Those experts, who studied the collection and journey of TikTok data, claim troves of information are being sent to servers in China “under the control of third-parties who cooperate with the Chinese government,” according to the lawsuit.
“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,” attorneys for users wrote in legal filings.
Microsoft is currently exploring an option to buy TikTok and shore up its questionable data privacy practices. What kind of exposure Microsoft would have to pending litigation will likely be part of the software giant’s review ahead of an official offer to buy the app. But lawyers involved in the case said the lawsuit is not likely to dissuade Microsoft.
“To the extent that any such data is currently stored or backed-up outside the United States, Microsoft would ensure that this data is deleted from servers outside the country after it is transferred,” Microsoft said in a statement.
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More on the case:
Class-Action Lawsuit Claims TikTok Steals Kids’ Data And Sends It To China