Lawsuit alleges TikTok sends user videos to Chinese servers for surveillance

A college
student from Palo Alto, California is suing video-sharing service TikTok for
allegedly using surveillance software designed to harvest personally
identifiable information, including biometric data, and send it to China for
reasons other than advertising.

TikTok, a
fast-growing social media app with 1.5 billion users globally, allows users to
create short music and lip-sync videos as well as short looping videos akin to
the Boomerang app. However, “TikTok’s lighthearted fun comes at a heavy cost,”
according to the class action papers filed in a court in the Northern
District of California last week.

“Unknown to
its users, however, is that TikTok also includes Chinese surveillance software,”
the suit alleges. “TikTok clandestinely has vacuumed up and transferred to
servers in China vast quantities of private and personally-identifiable user
data that can be employed to identify, profile and track the location and activities
of users in the United States now and in the future.”

The app also
surreptitiously transfers draft videos never intended for publication, without
user knowledge or consent, according to the plaintiff, Misty Hong.

Hong’s
lawyers allege that TikTok harvests troves of personal information before its
users even save or share their videos, including phone and social network
contacts, email addresses, IP address, and location data. More worryingly,
TikTok has access to biometric user data, since it records users’ faces.
However, TikTok prevents users from knowing that it has taken their private
videos and biometric Identifiers, according to the suit.

Once TikTok
users click the “next” button, but before they click the “save” or “post”
buttons, their videos are allegedly transferred to domains owned by TikTok in
China.

Interestingly,
Hong also alleges that she installed the TikTok app but never created an
account. However, the suit claims, TikTok created one for her anyway. Citing
various unverified sources, Hong alleges that TikTok secretly “transfers
private and personally-identifiable user data to China where, under Chinese
law, it is subject to collection and use by the Chinese government for criminal
investigations, the stifling of political dissent, surveillance, and other
purposes.

Citing violations
of the Right to Privacy under the California Constitution, the suit invites
others who are “similarly positioned” to join the fight against TikTok’s
aggressive collection of personal data.

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