Dutch foundation targets TikTok in €1.4 billion negligence lawsuit
The Dutch market research foundation SOMI filed a lawsuit against TikTok on Wednesday on behalf of thousands of concerned parents, who accuse the social media platform of negligence in ensuring their children's privacy and safety. "In total, the mass claim can amount to more than 1.4 billion euros, based on the more than 1 million Dutch minor users," SOMI said to RTL Nieuws.
So far over 64 thousand parents in the European Union joined this case, the foundation said. According to SOMI, TikTok is violating multiple European laws, including privacy laws and laws that prohibit targeting advertisements at children. The app also doesn't properly ask permission for data use, and does not say which data is collected for which purposes. And the Chinese company behind the app collects and stores more data than necessary, and doesn't meet the legal requirements for keeping that data safe, the foundation said.
SOMI also believes that TikTok doesn't comply with European media rules that are intended to "protect children from harmful content", partly referring to online challenges in which children challenge each other to do dangerous things. "SOMI also believes that more general videos on TikTok can be harmful to young children, for example because of hidden advertisements for harmful products and content that promotes unrealistic ideals of beauty, which can lead to problems such as self-harm and eating disorders."
The foundation's hope for this case is to get a legal ruling that forces TikTok to adjust its actions. "A court decision can directly restrict the practices of TikTok - and other social media platforms," SOMI co-founder Cor Wijtvliet said to the broadcaster. "We have sent letters of complaints to TikTok and several European supervisory authorities in the past year, but have not seen any substantive results. That is why we have decided not to wait for the investigations by the authorities and to take legal action ourselves."
A spokesperson for TikTok told RTL Nieuws that the privacy and safety of its users have "the highest priority". "We are taking industry-leading steps to promote youth security on TikTok, such as setting accounts to Private by default for users under the age of 16, and enabling parents to link their account to their teenage child's through Family Pairing. We continue to evaluate and improve our policies, processes and systems, and continue to consult with external experts."
Officially, TikTok can only be used by children aged 13 or older, and minors need their parents' permission. In practice, however, these age limits are not well enforced. Earlier this year, a court in Italy ordered TikTok to block users who did not confirm their age, after a 10-year-old girl died in a dangerous challenge on the social media platform.