TikTok agrees to pay $92 million to settle teen privacy class-action lawsuit

The video platform was accused of collecting biometric data without consent.

TikTok has agreed to pay a proposed $92 million to settle a class-action lawsuit alleging the company invaded user privacy.  

The settlement, if approved, would lay to rest claims that the video content-sharing app, owned by Beijing-headquartered ByteDance, wrongfully collected the private and biometric data of users including teenagers and minors. 

The class-action lawsuit originated from 21 separate class-action lawsuits filed in California and Illinois last year. 

If accepted, the settlement -- filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois -- would require the creation of a compensation fund for TikTok users. In addition, TikTok would be required to launch a new "privacy compliance" training program and would need to take further measures to protect user data. 

According to the proposed settlement (via NPR), TikTok was accused of using a "complex system of artificial intelligence (AI)" to recognize facial features in user videos, as well as to recommend stickers and filters. Algorithms are also cited as a means to identify a user's age, gender, and ethnicity. 

The lawsuit also alleged that user data was sent to China, and shared with third-parties, without consent. 

TikTok has denied any wrongdoing. However, in a statement, the social media giant said:

"While we disagree with the assertions, rather than go through lengthy litigation, we'd like to focus our efforts on building a safe and joyful experience for the TikTok community."

TikTok announced tighter controls for young users in January, including default privacy settings and restricting Duet and Stitch to users aged 16 and over. 

A judge is required to approve the $92 million settlement. Under the terms of the deal, it is possible that class members in Illinois could receive a larger share as the only US state that has laws in place to allow residents to seek compensation when their biometric data is collected or used without consent through the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA).

"Biometric information is among the most sensitive of private information because it's unique and it's permanent," commented co-lead counsel Beth Fegan. "Users' data follows them everywhere, and potentially for a lifetime. It's critical that their privacy and identity is protected by stalwart governance to guard against underhanded attempts at theft."

FeganScott and Carlson Lynch LLP are among the legal firms involved in the class-action lawsuit. 

Last year, Facebook agreed to pay $550 million to settle BIPA violation claims in Illinois. Complainants argued that the company's "Tag Suggestions" feature scraped and stored biometric markers without the consent of users. 

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