Kiichiro Sato / AP
TikTok agreed to pay $ 92 million to resolve dozens of lawsuits, saying the popular video-sharing app collected personal data from users, including information using face recognition technology, without consent and shared data with third parties, some based in China.
The proposed settlement, which lawyers in that case called among the largest privacy payments in history, refers to 89 million users of TikTok in the United States whose personal data were allegedly tracked and sold to advertisers in violation of state and federal law.
“First, it provides compensation to TikTok users, but is equally important to ensure that TikTok will respect the privacy of its users in the future,” said Katrina Carroll, one of TikTok’s lawyers. “Social media looks so harmless, but worrying data collection, storage and disclosure can happen behind the scenes.”
The settlement is the result of 21 federal lawsuits filed mostly on behalf of minors – some of whom were 8 years old – who claimed that the company was engaged in “theft of private and personal data of TikTok users”.
A TikTok spokesman said that the company, although it did not agree with the claims in the lawsuit, decided that resolving the case was in its best interest.
“Instead of going through a lengthy lawsuit, we would like to focus our efforts on building a safe and joyful experience for the TikTok community,” a spokesman said.
The legal battle lasted more than a year. The lawsuits are joined one multi-district action in Northern Illinois County who invoked privacy violations in Illinois and California. Laws require technology companies to obtain written consent before collecting a person’s identity. The lawsuit also alleges that TikTok violated federal laws, including privacy laws and computer fraud and abuse.
According to lawyers representing TikTok users, the app has “secretly sucked in” huge amounts of private and personally identifiable data that could be used to identify and monitor users without permission. TikTok even dug up information from draft videos that were never publicly shared in the app for data, the user’s lawyers claim.
While millions in the U.S. approached apps for videos about dance challenges, cooking tips, and silly sketches, TikTok reportedly sent their data to servers in China or other countries where Chinese employees could access the data.
Tiktok also shared information about users, without their consent, with Facebook, Google and other companies, the lawsuit claims.
“The light fun of the TikTok app comes at a great price,” the plaintiffs ’attorneys wrote in the lawsuit.
Investigators hired by prosecutors’ lawyers found that TikTok made an effort to hide data collection and exchange practices.
“The prosecutor ‘s investigation has revealed this [TikTok did so] by blurring the source code that would reveal their misconduct, ”according to the lawsuit.
A tentative settlement awaits final approval from U.S. District Judge John Lee of Northern Illinois County.
Under the proposed terms of the settlement, TikTok will no longer record users’ biometric information, including facial features, or track users’ locations using GPS data, or send U.S. users’ data overseas.
Former President Donald Trump tight on TikTok because of its ties to China. The application is owned by the technology company ByteDance from Beijing. TikTok has long argued that authorities in China cannot access U.S. user data, which is controlled by a U.S. team.
Biden administration he pulled back from spreading its predecessor to TikTok, instead launching a broader overview of American use of Chinese technology.
However, the U.S. Foreign Investment Committee, an inter-agency group led by the Treasury that investigates foreign-linked companies, is in the middle of a TikTok national security audit that could force changes to the company’s corporate structure.
The proposed TikTok settlement announced on Wednesday follows after similar work hit last year in which Facebook paid $ 650 million to resolve legal claims for collecting and storing biometric data of millions of users.
Federal regulators have carefully examined TikTok’s practice of collecting juvenile data. In February 2019. TikTok paid a $ 5.7 million fine to the Federal Trade Commission for alleging that the application illegally collected personal data from children.