Canadian privacy commissioners launch joint investigation into TikTok data use

TikTok agreed to a $2 million settlement for a Canadian class action lawsuit last year.

The federal and provincial privacy commissioners in Canada are investigating TikTok’s user data practices.

On Thursday, the Office of the Privacy of the Commissioner of Canada announced it launched a joint investigation with privacy protection authorities for Québec, British Columbia, and Alberta to examine the short-form video streaming app’s compliance with Canadian privacy legislation.

TikTok agreed to a $2 million settlement last year after being accused of illegal collection and commercialization of personal data from Canadian users.

According to the federal privacy regulator, the investigation was initiated in the wake of now settled, class action lawsuits in the United States (US) and Canada, as well as media reports related to TikTok’s collection, use, and disclosure of personal information.

Last year, TikTok users in the US began receiving payments following a $92 million class action settlement with TikTok. In that case, the short-form video sharing platform was sued for violating the state of Illinois’ biometric data laws by collecting and implementing facial recognition data into its algorithms without user consent.

TikTok has been tangled with privacy concerns as the app grew in popularity. In 2021, the Chinese government acquired a one percent stake in ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok. This transaction has caused concern about potential implications related to TikTok’s decision-making and product development.

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In 2020, former US president Donald Trump ordered a ban on new downloads for TikTok, who viewed the social media app as a national security threat. This executive order has been revoked by current US president Joe Biden, but Biden also signed another executive order to set the criteria for evaluating the risk of apps connected to foreign adversaries, such as TikTok.

In the Canadian investigation, Canada’s four privacy regulators will look into TikTok’s data practices and “whether valid and meaningful consent is being obtained for the collection, use and disclosure of personal information.”

TikTok agreed to a $2 million settlement last year after being accused of illegally collecting and commercializing personal data from Canadian users in two lawsuits. One of the plaintiffs alleged TikTok collected private information from underaged users without proper consent.

A large portion of TikTok users are part of the younger demographic, with a significant group being minors. Reports estimate that TikTok has about 80 million monthly active users in the US, with about 60 percent of that group being between the ages of 16 to 24.

Noting the importance of protecting children’s privacy, the group of Canadian regulators investigating TikTok said the joint investigation will have a particular focus on the social media app’s privacy practices as they relate to younger users.

Featured image courtesy Unsplash.

Charlize Alcaraz

Charlize Alcaraz

Charlize Alcaraz is a staff writer for BetaKit.

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