TikTok’s in-app browser monitoring violates the Wiretapping Act, many lawsuits are being demanded

TikTok’s in-app browser monitoring violates the Wiretapping Act, many lawsuits are being demanded

In the past three months, TikTok has been hit with 15 lawsuits alleging essentially the same thing: that its in-app browser illegally tracks users’ behavior in violation of federal wiretapping laws.

The latest lawsuit, filed Feb. 28 in federal court in Philadelphia, claims that “the use of the in-app browser allows TikTok to receive any confidential information that the user provides without the user’s knowledge in this third party party’s website’.

The lawsuits are largely based on the work of an Austrian security researcher who last summer outlined the presence of source code that potentially allows TikTok to track how users interact with websites accessed through the app.

Forbes was the first report Research by Felix Krause shortly after its release in August 2022. Krause tested seven iPhone apps that use in-app browsers, including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and others: TikTok was the only code that could monitor keystrokes.

Neither TikTok spokeswoman Maureen Shanahan nor ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese parent company, responded. Forbes seeking comment on the lawsuits.

However, the company said Forbes Previously, although these features exist in the app’s source code, the company does not monitor users, and such code elements are only used for “debugging, troubleshooting, and performance monitoring.” TikTok’s own privacy policy specifically states that the company “collects certain information” from users’ devices, including “keystroke patterns or rhythms.”

“TikTok knows a user is pregnant before the user’s close family and friends do.”

Fugo vs. TikTok

The lawsuits come at a time when TikTok is under intense scrutiny in the United States over concerns that its China-based parent company, ByteDance, may be providing user data to the Chinese government or influencing what Americans see on the app at the behest of the government.

In response, some US senators called for the app to be pulled from US app stores, while others told the Treasury Department that the company had been spying recently. Forbes The journalists report that there is a “long-term, significant threat to ByteDance’s ownership and operation of TikTok.”

On February 28, the Office of Management and Budget wrote in a memorandum that all executive agencies must remove TikTok from all “federal assets” within 30 days. More than half of the 50 states have enacted similar bans on devices used by state employees.

In the lawsuit of February 28, which is called Fugo vs. TikTok, the plaintiffs illustrate how TikTok can collect vast amounts of information. The lawsuit alleges that if someone opens Planned Parenthood’s website on the TikTok app, that user may unwittingly reveal highly intimate information to the company.

“A simple search for the term ‘prenatal care’ indicates to TikTok that this user may be pregnant,” the suit states. “TikTok knows a user is pregnant before the user’s close family and friends do.”

Neither lawsuit argues that the named plaintiffs were specifically harmed by TikTok’s ability to track keystrokes.

In these cases, TikTok’s lawyers generally did not respond substantively to the plaintiffs’ allegations because they did not go far enough procedurally.

However, in the first such case, the so-called Recht v. TikTokFiled in Los Angeles federal court in November 2022, the company asked that this lawsuit and others like it be included in a $92 million settlement over allegations related to improper biometric data acquisition two years ago. .

For their part, Recht’s lawyers say that TikTok’s arguments are false and that the new cases that have coalesced Recht to be subsumed under a new multi-district case centered in Los Angeles. A federal “multidistrict litigation panel” meeting in Tucson later this month will hear arguments on the matter later this month. Some new TikTok-related cases have been put on hold pending a decision by the Tucson board.

Legal experts say that while these numerous lawsuits make valid claims against TikTok, it’s unclear how the cases will ultimately be resolved.

“This is a serious complaint, but whether the lawsuit is viable depends on TikTok intercepting communications,” said Orin Kerr, a noted law professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Forbes. “It’s not a wiretapping violation if we have the ability to wiretap.”

Brian Owsley, a law professor at the University of North Texas at Dallas, wrote a similar email Forbes to say that TikTok’s lack of transparency remains a concern.

“I don’t think we really know what TikTok does with the information it collects,” he said. “That’s a problem for a lot of people, given his relationship with the Chinese government.”

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