A California class action lawsuit filed in the Northern District of California (Hong v. ByteDance,Inc. et al 5:19-cv-07792-SVK) accused TikTok, a social video sharing platform, of transferring private user data to Chinese servers, despite its claims that it does not store personal data. TikTok is also facing an investigation by the United States government over national security concerns regarding data storage and potential censorship of politically sensitive information.
The plaintiff, Misty Hong, is a college student and resident of California. She downloaded the TikTok app in March or April of this year but never made an account. She claimed that she discovered months later that TikTok created an account for her without her knowledge or consent and created a file of information about her, including biometric information taken from videos she made, but never posted.
The complaint stated, TikTok “clandestinely… 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 suit also alleged since at least 2017, source code from Chinese tech-giant Baidu and advertising service Igexin are embedded within the TikTok app, which enabled developers to install spyware on a user’s phone.
“TikTok’s lighthearted fun comes at a heavy cost. Meanwhile, 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. Its conduct violates statutory, Constitutional, and common law privacy, data, and consumer protections.”
The complaint further alleged that after a user records a video and presses the next button, their video is transferred from their device to a domain owned by ByteDance, the company that owns TikTok, but there is no indication that a user’s video is being transferred. Users are unaware that their videos and biometrics are transferred and stored by TikTok.
The complaint alleged that TikTok violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, California Comprehensive Data Access and Fraud Act, the right to privacy as provided in the California Constitution, Intrusion upon Seclusion, the California Unfair Competition Law, and the California False Advertising Law. Negligence and restitution for unjust enrichment are also among the alleged offenses.