Chinese app TikTok is once again accused of sending personal user data to China. Despite ByteDance's repeated assurances that it doesn't store personal user data in China, a student has filed a lawsuit against TikTok in California district court for allegedly sending private user data to Chinese servers. Beijing-based ByteDance, one of the most valuable startups, owns TikTok.
A fresh wave of allegations on TikTok's data-sharing practices may also weaken ByteDance's defense against similar concerns being raised already by the U.S. authorities, mounting global political pressure on the popular short-video app. These allegations may create more legal trouble for TikTok in the U.S. where it operates entirely outside of China to treat it as a global market,
In the lawsuit filed in the California district court last week, TikTok has been accused of sending a large amount of private and personally-identifiable user data with Chinese servers. However, TikTok maintains that it stores all U.S. user data in the U.S. with backups in Singapore.
The plaintiff Misty Hog, a college student, claims she downloaded the TikTok app earlier this year but never created an account. Months later, Hong alleges that she discovered her account was created on TikTok without her knowledge. She also alleged that TikTok produced a dossier of private information about her, including biometric information extracted from videos, which Hong says she created but never posted on the app.
The lawsuit claims TikTok sent private user data to two Chinese servers - buggly.qq.com (owned by Tencent) and Umeng.com (which is a part of Alibaba Group).
Alarming concerns have been raised following claims made in the lawsuit that that source code from Baidu and Igexin is embedded within TikTok. While Baidu is Chinese tech giant, Igexin is a Chinese advertising service, which security researchers discovered in 2017 was enabling developers to install spyware on a user’s phone.
More details are awaited on the lawsuit.
The TikTok app is already facing a U.S government national security probe over concerns about TikTok's data storage and alleged censorship when it comes to sensitive, political content.
(With Reuters inputs)