TikTok and parent company ByteDance face a proposed class action over their alleged collection of non-users’ personal data whenever they visit a website on which the short-form video app’s software development kit (SDK) is installed.
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The 42-page lawsuit claims TikTok has collected non-users’ data on third-party sites even when an individual’s privacy settings are set to block third-party web tracking. The suit describes TikTok and ByteDance’s “invasive and non-consensual” conduct as the companies’ “latest salvo in their ongoing campaign to illicitly harvest an enormous amount of private data on U.S. residents.”
The lawsuit says that the TikTok app represents “a clear and present danger to personal privacy” yet concedes that an outright ban on the app, the prospect of which is currently being tossed around by the federal government, would not solve the problem given that the defendants collect data from consumers—including those who have never used TikTok—on third-party websites.
“While U.S. residents browse completely unrelated websites to watch their favorite television show, search for medical information, or purchase a birthday gift for their children, TikTok software owned by defendants and installed on those websites – the ‘TikTok SDK’ – secretly intercepts and collects their private data and sends it to Defendants,” the complaint summarizes.
Per the suit, the TikTok SDK is marketed as an “enterprise solution” for websites to identify users and deliver targeted advertisements. The complaint shares that the TikTok SDK, increasingly popular for web advertising, is essentially a package of software tools that allows developers to “implement certain functionality on their platforms without the need to rebuild code” from scratch. The software package, via cookies on third-party sites, collects from non-users certain data on the webpages they’ve visited, as well as search queries, user IDs, phone numbers, email addresses, IP addresses and more, the case relays.
Visitors to these sites are unaware that the TikTok SDK collects their sensitive data and delivers it to TikTok and ByteDance “while performing its advertised function,” the filing says.
“In sum, the TikTok SDK has become yet another, even more insidious, means through which Defendants steal private data from U.S. residents,” the case scathes. “The purpose of this lawsuit is to put an end to this practice and compensate those injured to the fullest extent of the law.”
The suit looks to cover all U.S. residents who visited a website on which the TikTok SDK was installed during the “class period” and who have never been registered users of the TikTok app or held a TikTok account. The “class period,” the filing states, begins on the date when TikTok and ByteDance first received private data from non-TikTok users on sites on which the TikTok SDK was or is installed, and continues through the present.
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