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California Student Sues TikTok

Class-action suit says video-sharing app has 'vacuumed up' user data, sent to China
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 3, 2019 11:25 AM CST
In this Feb. 28, 2018, photo, a user holds her phone and logs into the lip-sync smartphone app Musical.ly in Wethersfield, Conn.   (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)

(Newser) – In March or April of this year, Palo Alto college student Misty Hong says she downloaded the TikTok app, designed to create and share short videos. Now her complaints against the service have turned into a class-action lawsuit, alleging that TikTok has secretly taken user data and transferred it without users' knowledge to servers in China, Reuters reports. Hong's suit, filed Wednesday in California federal court, claims TikTok and parent company ByteDance covertly "vacuumed up and transferred to servers in China vast quantities of private and personally identifiable user data." Per the Daily Beast, which first reported on the the suit, the complaint also says Musical.ly (an app that merged with TikTok in August 2018) also secretly scooped up such user data as location, age, phone numbers, and browsing histories, then allegedly sent that data to servers in China.

In Hong's case, she says that after she downloaded TikTok, the app created an account for her using her phone number and scanned videos she'd made (but not posted) to work up a "dossier" on her, which included a scan of her face. The suit claims TikTok transferred user data to servers managed by Bugly (which is owned by Tencent, China's biggest mobile software company) and Umeng, which is part of China's Alibaba. TikTok has made repeated efforts to assure users that it doesn't hoard user data on Chinese servers, censor videos that would tick off China, or even share user data with ByteDance, which is based in Beijing, per a recent interview with Musical.ly founder and TikTok chief Alex Zhu in the New York Times. Zhu says all TikTok data from around the world is stored in Virginia, with backups kept in Singapore. (Read more TikTok stories.)

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