The problem called TikTok: 'Breaking into children's accounts'

The short TikTok videos with funny dances and cheerful music seem completely innocent at first sight. “But that's not it,” says Dutch financial analyst Cor Wijtvliet. Together with lawyer Hans Franke, he founded the Foundation for Market Information Research (SOMI) as a collective advocate of the privacy for European consumers. On their website, they call on parents worldwide to register for a collective claim against TikTok. “This will come about if enough parents inform us that the social medium does not handle the privacy and interests of their children properly,” says Wijtvliet. “If we want to make a fist, a few hundred people have to sign up. Then there will be a lawsuit in the US, although it may take a few years before there is a ruling. ”

This article was published on 9th August 2020 on De Morgen in Belgium. Written by Jan Stevens. Please find the English translation below.

In its own words, TikTok mainly targets young people in the age category of 16 to 24 years, with a minimum age of 12 years. “But in reality, the age of the users is often much lower,” says Wijtvliet. “All social media cares about the privacy of their visitors and bizarrely enough we accept that without complaint. But TikTok goes one step further by violating the privacy and safety of children. In addition, their system is as leaky as a sieve, causing malicious attackers to break into children's accounts. Specialized research websites such as collected evidence of this. Sometimes pedophile is caught on TikTok. The 'ruthless' sanction from TikTok is that he is not allowed to show himself on the platform for a week. If he then reoffends, he is not allowed to show himself there for a month. Only the third time does the platform take action. ”

IT security expert Sanne Maasakkers understands this fear. “In America, there are regulations that protect the privacy of citizens, but there is no such regulations in China. The TikTok app collects an awful lot of information, although other social media apps like Instagram or Facebook do too. But if the Chinese government requests access to the data that Chinese technology companies collect, they will have to hand it over without complaint. In the meantime, ByteDance has moved its TikTok servers for American and European users to countries outside of China, more specifically to the US and Singapore. The criticism has therefore not fallen on deaf ears. ”

Cor Wijtvliet does not agree with this. “All criticism slips from ByteDance and TikTok. In February 2018, the American judiciary sat down with TikTok for the first time. "We are aware that occasionally something goes wrong with our app" the TikTok spokesperson responded, "but we are working on it!". In May 2019, the Financial Times wrote that TikTok management had ignored all agreements it had made with the law enforcement. ”

Earlier this month, the South Korean government fined TikTok EUR 160,000 for illegally collecting data from children and diverting the data abroad. According to Wijtvliet, TikTok tries to censor 'unwanted' videos from users. “The app would rather not have a child with a visible disability upload a video, because that is at odds with the happy image that the app likes to convey. So they ensure that such content has barely reached. If you say something that criticizes, for example, Beijing's seizure of power in Hong Kong, chances are that TikTok will then remove your video from the platform. ”

According to Wijtvliet: “Both in Europe and in the US. For example, the account of the American teenage girl Feroza Aziz was closed by TikTok at the end of last year because she had criticized the treatment of the Uighurs by the Chinese government. ”

TikTok is not the only app that diverts data traffic to China, the video chat app Zoom, which has become very popular due to the corona crisis, is also guilty of this. “Like TikTok, Zoom feels supreme with that Chinese support and protection,” he says. “Data from millions of Zoom users is out there and Zoom passwords are traded on the dark web. That is why we also organize a collective claim against them with More than 10,000 people have subscribed since April. ”

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