Video sharing app TikTok, in the top five non-gaming iPhone apps thanks to its popularity with US teenagers, has been accused of violating child protection laws, potentially putting them at risk from predators.

Additionally, it is claimed in a new lawsuit that the app sends personal data to China, despite promising not to…

Gizmodo reports.

The complaint viewed by Gizmodo alleges that its app’s first problem was that it failed to create adequate safeguards to prevent minors from using the app. In order to create an account, the app required personally identifying information of users like their email address, phone number, username, first and last name, and a photo and bio in which they might reveal their age. Moreover, the suit alleges that between December 2015 and October 2016, the app also collected location data on users, a feature that “enabled Defendants and other users of the App to identify where a user was located.”

In addition to being a platform on which users could communicate with other users on their videos and through direct messages, user accounts were set to public by default – along with all of that personally-identifying information. However, the suit alleges that even if users were to set their profile to private, “their profiles, including usernames, profile pictures, and bios, remained public and searchable by other users.”

Further, the suit claims that up until October 2016, the app had a feature that would allow users to connect with other users in their area via a “my city” tab, which would surface “a list of other users within a 50-mile radius, and with whom the user could connect and interact with by following the user or sending direct messages.” The suit alleges that this combination of failures created a situation that could potentially turn into a dangerous and predatory environment for children.

Thousands of parents are said to have complained to developer that their children were using the app without their consent and that the app made it easy for adults posing as children to send inappropriate messages to minors.

Reuters reports that the lawsuit also accuses TikTok of sending personal data to China despite assurances to the contrary.

The lawsuit […] alleges TikTok has surreptitiously “vacuumed up and transferred to servers in China vast quantities of private and personally-identifiable user data.”

TikTok did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the allegations, but maintains that it stores all U.S. user data in the United States with backups in Singapore […]

According to the filing, TikTok transferred user data to two servers in China – and – as recently as April 2019, including information about the user’s device and any websites the user had visited.

TikTok told Gizmodo that it expected to settle the lawsuit.

TikTok was made aware of the allegations in the complaint some time ago, and although we disagree with much of what is alleged in the complaint, we have been working with the parties involved to reach a resolution of the issues.

TikTok is one of a number of Chinese apps and services coming under scrutiny by US lawmakers. The company agreed to pay a $5.7M fine to the FTC earlier this year after admitting to violating child protection laws in an unrelated case.

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Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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