If you've got a teenage kid at home, chances are they use TikTok. If they haven't filled you in yet, it's a popular app for sharing 15-second video clips. Teens everywhere are creating short, funny videos in a bid to rack up views.
Seemingly overnight, TikTok's popularity has soared, with more than 110 million downloads to smartphones in the U.S. The app is owned by the China-based ByteDance Technology Co. Despite assertions by the company that TikTok is operated outside of China, lawmakers have raised national security concerns and criticism that it censors content unfriendly to China.
Now, a pair of recent lawsuits should concern parents and TikTok users across the U.S. about just how safe and innocent the app is.
In one suit, a group of parents alleged the company violated the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). When signing up, children under 13 were asked to provide personally identifiable information that was available to other users. The app also allegedly collected location data of child users for more than a year.
The allegations are similar to those faced by YouTube earlier this year, when it was fined for violating COPPA. TikTok was also fined by the Federal Trade Commission earlier this year for COPPA violations.
While not admitting to anything, the company settled the lawsuit one day after it was filed.
In the second, a class-action lawsuit filed by a college student alleges that TikTok does indeed store private user data on servers in China. The company says that all U.S. user data is stored here in America, with backup servers located in Singapore.
According to that suit, the student downloaded the app but never created an account, only to later discover that the app itself created an account for her and collected private information about her, including a scan of her face.
The suit further alleges that embedded within the code for TikTok are a host of other Chinese tech companies, all with their own privacy concerns.
The concern with personally identifying data being available on Chinese servers is that the Chinese government enjoys much easier access to that data than the U.S. government does to data stored on servers here.
As a parent, you always have to straddle the line between letting your teen children learn and make mistakes while also looking out for their best interests. While no one wants to be "that parent" who doesn't let their kids use the app all their friends do, this is an issue that may require monitoring.