The privacy protection officials for Canada, Québec, British Columbia and Alberta announced Feb. 23 they are jointly investigating Chinese-owned TikTok for its possible collection, use and disclosure of personal information.
B.C.’s Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner said the investigation was initiated in the wake of now-settled, class-action lawsuits in the United States and Canada, as well as numerous media reports related to the short-form video and streaming application.
What the commissioners are looking into are whether TikTok's practices are in compliance with Canadian privacy legislation and in particular, whether valid and meaningful consent is being obtained for the collection, use and disclosure of personal information.
“The investigation will also determine if the company is meeting its transparency obligations, particularly when collecting personal information from its users,” the commissioners said in a joint news release.
A specific focus of the probe will examine protecting children’s privacy given the social media giant’s younger demographic. Again, that part of the work will focus on whether or not the company obtained meaningful consent from users for the collection, use and disclosure of their personal information.
National security concerns
Last year, Parliament passed a motion calling on the government to look into TikTok and other social media platforms’ involvement or use “of private information of Canadians for the objective of data harvesting.”
Data concerns about TikTok in Ottawa are not new.
In August 2020, the special committee on Canada-China relations heard questions about social media companies, including TikTok.
“Do you feel that TikTok is a national security threat, and will the ban be effective in limiting China's interference?” MP Jean Yip asked committee witness Samuel Chu. He has worked with the Hong Kong Democracy Council and has lobbied the U.S. Congress for the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.
“The security of the data, where it is stored and how it is used, is definitely a national security concern, because, again, if they are able to use the data to prosecute under something like the National Security Law, then that becomes a direct threat that I think people may not recognize, which exists right now,” Chu said.
China’s National Security Law for Hong Kong targets crimes of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. Violations are punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The federal government has strict guidelines on official use of social media.
Guidelines say government institutions subject to the federal Privacy Act and which collect personal information on social media platforms, such as an individual's name, email address or internet protocol address, must ensure that they have the legislative authority to do so.
Further, guidelines said, institutions must collect the minimum personal information necessary to meet their legislated requirements.