TikTok settles for $92m after being accused of harvesting biometric data

Users had accused the social media platform of scanning their videos for facial features and sharing data with third-parties

TikTok owner ByteDance has proposed a $92 million (roughly £65.7 million) settlement to a class-action lawsuit after the social media platform was accused of collecting the biometric data of its users.

The lawsuit accused the social media platform of deploying a complex artificial intelligence (AI) system to scan for facial features in users’ videos, alongside algorithms to identify a user’s age, gender and ethnicity. 

The accusers claim that TikTok’s app extracted a broad array of such data without consent, while information such as personal and private viewing histories was shared with third-parties such as Facebook and Google. 

Also of concern is the potential for this data to be shared with companies based in China, given the lawsuit claimed TikTok doesn’t adequately disclose how user data is shared with entities outside the US.

The settlement, if accepted by a judge, would require TikTok to establish a compensation scheme for its users in addition to launching a ‘privacy compliance’ training programme.

“This settlement is important for many reasons,” said co-lead counsel Katrina Carroll, arguing on the side of the class-action lawsuit. 

“First, it provides compensation for TikTok users, but equally as important, it ensures TikTok will respect its users’ privacy going forward. Social media seems so innocuous, but troubling data collection, storage, and disclosure can happen behind the scenes. This settlement sets out to prevent that.”

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Co-lead counsel Beth Fegan argued that biometric information is mong the most sensitive of private information because it’s unique and permanent. Therefore, she added, it’s critical that Tiktok users’ privacy is protected against “underhanded attempts at theft.” 

TikTok denied any privacy violations following the accusations and has maintained that there was no wrongdoing on its part. 

“While we disagree with the assertions,” a spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), “rather than go through lengthy litigation, we’d like to focus our efforts on building a safe and joyful experience for the TikTok community.”

The firm had previously been under fire for a now-rectified vulnerability in its platform that exposed data belonging to its users. According to Check Point Research, if left unpatched, the vulnerability would’ve enabled hackers to access a user’s phone number, nickname, profile and avatar pictures, unique user IDs, as well as certain profile settings.

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