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TikTok caught smuggling user data to China for surveillance – Lawsuit filed against the app

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TikTok has arguably been the biggest internet phenomenon of 2019. The popular short video app has taken the world by storm with over 1.5 billion downloads around the world. TikTok is not an entirely new thing though as it is a hybrid between older video platforms like Vine and Musical.ly. However, a simple user interface and the innovative video creation tools have really aided people with expressing their art in creative ways.

TikTok is not free from controversies though. The app has been accused of several privacy breaches in the past amidst concerns of connections with the Chinese government. Furthermore, the app has also been under fire for trying to suppress political statements against the Chinese government and for trying to block out certain social narratives. Likewise, it seems like things are only getting worse as an actual class-action lawsuit has been filed against TikTok.

Earlier last week, Misty Hong, a college student from California sued TikTok for violating a federal computer fraud law, California Constitution’s right to privacy law and several other laws. According to the class-action lawsuit filed in California federal court, TikTok has allegedly been taking non-published user videos and sending it to Chinese servers without user consent.

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According to Hong’s lawsuit, she downloaded TikTok but never made an account on the app. However, she later went on to discover that the app had made an account for her automatically. She then proceeded to create five or six videos on the app without ever uploading or publishing them to the servers. Despite the videos being offline, she found out that TikTok had still sent her videos and data to the servers in China.

The app’s privacy policy and methods are extremely vague without any justifications for transferring of data to servers abroad. According to the lawsuit, this transfer of user information without consent is a massive breach of privacy.

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Why is sending data to Chinese servers such a big deal?

TikTok is mainly a video platform with the focus on the person creating that video. Most videos made on TikTok include close ups of the user’s face in some regard. The app, therefore, has access to a lot of biometric data of its users. Other than that, TikTok also collects the users’ contacts, email addresses, IP address, location and other potentially sensitive information.

All of this data being sent to China raises concerns that TikTok could be used to identify and track users. In addition to that, the company also uses this data to sell targeted ads without user consent.

Moreover, the U.S government is also looking into the app for potential links to the Chinese government and the security risks that it poses. This is not the first time TikTok has been accused of being connected to the Chinese government though. Earlier last week, a video on TikTok pointing out the mistreatment of Uighurs in China was taken down for unknown reasons. In addition to that, the app has also had a history of taking down videos that support LGBT+ rights.

All of these actions and claims do line up with the suspicion of the Chinese government’s involvement with the app in some regard. However, nothing has yet been proven against the app so all we can do now is wait for the inquiry.

After Huawei, could TikTok become another big company to get banned in the US amidst privacy concerns? Let us know down in the comments below.

 

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