A person holding a phone with the TikTok app

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Privacy group promises legal action if TikTok doesn’t protect user privacy

'Dissemination of TikTok user data would constitute an unlawful trade practice,' EPIC wrote in letters to TikTok and Oracle.

Sep 21, 2020, 12:35 pm

Tech

Mikael Thalen 

Mikael Thalen

Privacy and civil liberties nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is threatening legal action if TikTok fails to protect the privacy of its users amid its potential partnership with Oracle.

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EPIC’s warning comes after President Donald Trump announced on Saturday the approval of a deal that would see U.S. software company Oracle own a portion of the Chinese-run social media app as part of a newly-created company.

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Trump has railed against TikTok for months over what he claims are national security dangers posed by the app. The deal would supposedly put U.S. users’ data in the hands of American companies. The deal would create a new company based in the U.S. called TikTok Global.

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With the new partnership moving forward, EPIC is attempting to get ahead of the curve by demanding that user data actually be protected.

“Absent strict privacy safeguards, which to our knowledge Oracle has not established, [the] collection, processing, use, and dissemination of TikTok user data would constitute an unlawful trade practice,” EPIC wrote.

In letters addressed to Oracle and TikTok, EPIC warned that unless the companies “adequately protect the privacy of TikTok users” by pledging not to sell user data, for example, a lawsuit would be initiated under the D.C. Consumer Protection Procedures Act.

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“Any misuse of personal data resulting from an Oracle-TikTok partnership may separately subject both companies to enforcement actions by the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general,” the letters state. “We are also forwarding this letter to the FTC and the D.C. Office of the Attorney General.”

In the letters, which were sent last week, EPIC asks Oracle and TikTok to commit to a number of things, including making sure TikTok user data is kept separate from Oracle databases, and refraining from selling TikTok user data to third parties. EPIC asked for a response by Friday.

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While EPIC is focused on potential privacy concerns, it appears details surrounding the deal are still coming to light.

Although Trump has heralded the deal as a major victory, reports indicate that ByteDance, the Chinese company which owns TikTok, will still remain the app’s primary owner.

Although the deal creates a new jointly owned company to oversee the app, known as TikTok Global, reports indicate that ByteDance will own 80% of that new company. Oracle, however, will only share 20% with U.S. retail giant Walmart.

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But Oracle Vice President Ken Glueck has alleged that “ByteDance will have no ownership in TikTok Global” and that American companies will be running the show, creating confusion over the exact details in the deal.

Either way, the deal itself has been called into question given its unprecedented nature and the fact that Oracle’s founder, Larry Ellison, is a known Trump supporter.

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*First Published: Sep 21, 2020, 12:35 pm