A proposed class of users of the popular CapCut app are suing ByteDance, the company that also owns TikTok, for alleged violations of federal and state data privacy and consumer protection laws
Users of CapCut, a video editing app with more than 200 million monthly users, are accusing CapCut and parent company ByteDance of illegally profiting from their sensitive personal data, according to consumer rights attorneys at leading plaintiffs’ litigation firm Hagens Berman.
The class-action lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on July 28, 2023, alleges that CapCut and ByteDance, which also owns TikTok, illegally harvest and profit from user data including biometric information and geolocation. The lawsuit accuses the companies of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as various state consumer protection and data privacy laws, and also alleges that CapCut and ByteDance make sensitive user data available to the Chinese government for surveillance and other purposes.
“Because ByteDance is a tool app, not a social media app, it has largely avoided scrutiny over how it handles user data,” said Steve Berman, managing partner at Hagens Berman and the attorney leading the case. “That ends now. This is an app that is already banned in India, and TikTok, also owned by ByteDance, has been banned from U.S. government devices because of privacy concerns. ByteDance can’t be allowed to continue with its unchecked, unscrupulous exploitation of private information.”
How CapCut Profits from Alleged Privacy Violations
CapCut can be used to conduct highly sophisticated editing, and videos can be posted on TikTok, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram or other social media platforms. It is hugely popular, with global downloads of more than 400 million in 2022 alone, according to the complaint.
Attorneys say that CapCut uses highly sensitive data it harvests from users — including geolocation, addresses, messaging information and biometric data like facial measurements — to attract marketing and sales, conduct targeted advertising and develop consumer demand for ByteDance’s other products, like the TikTok app.
Unbeknownst to users, the complaint states, the CapCut app also gains access to private videos, which often include close-up views of faces and private acts not intended for the public, even if users choose not to post them. Additionally, the app performs “pre-uploading” of content which sends the content to social media platforms even before the user clicks upload or post.
The complaint states that by collecting and filtering user data including gender, location, operating system and interests, CapCut is able to improve its sophisticated targeted ad and marketing platform and allow its clientele to target demographics with precision.
“This app is insidious,” said Berman. “Through covertly collecting your location data over time, it can build a stunningly detailed picture of you and your children’s private living patterns, including where you work, where your kids go to school, information about your health, religion, politics, intimate relationships — everything it needs to squeeze you for maximum profit.”
ByteDance’s Ties With the Chinese Government
According to the complaint, ByteDance also has a history of complying with the dictates of the Chinese government, and the company actively participates in the dissemination of state propaganda. Additionally, the complaint states, multiple employees of the company are concurrently employed by state media entities, and “the insertion of such communist party members into private enterprises…is a means by which the Chinese government and Chinese communist party issue direct control over nominally ‘private’ companies.” The company is required, under Chinese law, to provide the government with the highly sensitive user data it collects.
According to the complaint, TikTok documents demonstrate that “TikTok’s ‘messaging’ strategy calls for company representatives to ‘Downplay the parent company ByteDance, downplay the China association, downplay AI.’” Attorneys allege that this corporate strategy to downplay ties with China applies equally to the CapCut app. TikTok has been the subject of multiple class-action lawsuits, according to the complaint, which consolidated in a federal multidistrict litigation which ByteDance recently settled for $92 million.
The complaint brings claims of violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the California Comprehensive Data Access and Fraud Act, the right of privacy under the California Constitution and intrusion upon seclusion, among others.
Hagens Berman is a global plaintiffs’ rights complex litigation law firm with a tenacious drive for achieving real results for those harmed by corporate negligence and fraud. Since its founding in 1993, the firm’s determination has earned it numerous national accolades, awards and titles of “Most Feared Plaintiff’s Firm,” MVPs and Trailblazers of class-action law. More about the law firm and its successes can be found at www.hbsslaw.com. Follow the firm for updates and news at @ClassActionLaw.