CA College Student Accuses TikTok Of Illicit Data Harvesting

A California college student has filed a lawsuit against TikTok, accusing the viral video service of sending her personal data to its parent company in China, as well as creating an online profile for targeted advertising, without her consent.

The lawsuit was filed last week in the Northern District of California by university student Misty Hong. However, the filing does not include any evidence regarding the allegations, which accuses TikTok of privacy and data fraud, and unfair competition violations.

“TikTok’s lighthearted fun comes at a heavy cost. TikTok unjustly profits from its secret harvesting of private and personally identifiable user data by, among other things, using such data to derive vast targeted advertising revenues and profits,” the lawyers said in the filing, according to Bloomberg. “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.”

Owned by Chinese company ByteDance, the world’s most valuable startup, TikTok has been installed by about 564 million users so far this year, and around 1.45 billion times since its launch. Despite growing tension between the U.S. and China, new U.S. users grew 38 percent to 11.6 million in the third quarter.

Still, last month, there were reports that the company was looking to distance itself from its Chinese roots, with advisors and employees coming up with suggestions for rebranding strategies. Some of TikTok’s investors, like Sequoia Capital and SoftBank Group, believe continued growth in the U.S. is instrumental to an eventual goal of taking the company public next year. However, a spokesperson for ByteDance said TikTok is not going to change its name, and does not have any ability to control Chinese content, since users upload videos.

“It is well-known that ByteDance was founded in China,” he said. “But the reality is that the TikTok app does not operate in China, and we have been further building out and empowering teams in the markets where it does operate.”