Last month, US lawmakers sent a letter to Apple demanding the tech company investigate reports that kids are being able to download this app under age. Now parents of children who download TikTok on Apple phones are suing the app maker, claiming breach of contract and copyright infringement.
“There is no question that we have authority here,” attorney Brian Graney, who is representing 10 users, told the New York Times, adding: “This is an opportunity to protect the public’s value and investment in a social media app.”
Here’s the background
On 25 February, 26 members of the Senate’s children’s health and technology caucus wrote a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook urging him to investigate the apps. The Congressional Children’s Social Media Advisory Council has been monitoring claims that TikTok was being used by children under age 13 without parental consent.
TikTok, which launched in February 2016, reached global popularity in 2017 and is now used by more than 100 million users. According to tech news site Recode, at least some TikTok users are turning to the app on adults’ smartphones without anyone knowing.
The letters, from 24 members of the US Senate’s children’s health and technology caucus, read in part: “… children and teenagers are using the TikTok app, and even those who are not have access to the app and its advertising.
“When there is a significant pool of underage users, additional ads from companies seeking children’s attention could raise concerns about deceptive or deceptive advertising.”
TikTok is owned by ByteDance Inc, a Chinese tech company based in Beijing. China’s ministry of culture told local media last week that TikTok – which is banned in China and which was updated for Chinese users in January – needed to be “more restrained” in its advertisement.
The backlash in China has been particularly harsh, with Chinese education authorities telling English language lessons to pull ads from the app. “The Chinese government doesn’t like social media ads,” one parent told the BBC.
Here’s the lawsuit
TikTok’s userbase in the US is made up of children and young adults aged between 13 and 34. Some users have reportedly said that although they did not know how old they were when they downloaded the app, they use the app frequently, and they are “the ones that are posting embarrassing content on social media because there is no oversight by parents or the government,” according to the letter sent to Cook.
On Friday, one of the US senators’s children’s technology caucus’s representatives released a statement saying they would consider introducing legislative changes if Apple didn’t act soon.
But now, users who have downloaded the app say they are being pressured into signing contracts to claim money from the app makers. “[They] say that they’re not going to kick us out of the app unless we agree to this unfair agreement,” one user said, according to The Verge.
“My agreement is fairly similar to most of my friends’; otherwise, TikTok would be notified, they would throw our contacts off, and so forth,” another user wrote.
But they wouldn’t give up unless the user signed an enforcement agreement demanding payment. “They were being coy, but then I read the fine print and saw that I would have to start paying a one-time ‘activation fee’ of $199.99 before any TikTok access is granted,” another user said. “And obviously I refused.”
While other users who agreed to the enforcement agreement told Recode they also refused to sign any enforcement agreement.
In an emailed statement, Apple told the Guardian that: “At Apple, we take user privacy and security very seriously. We are committed to protecting our customers and we investigate any allegations of misuse.”
ByteDance did not respond to an emailed request for comment.