TikTok to Pay $92 Million to Settle Lawsuit Over ‘Theft’ of Personal Data

We’ve all heard about it, and you might even me slightly addicted to it: TikTok, the new video-sharing app that has become a dominant player online thanks to its funny dance videos, cleverly edited duets, and silly skits. 😃

But TikTok isn’t all fun and games. The app was sued last year for allegedly stealing kids’ data and sending it to server farms in China. Rather than fight the allegations, the company has opted to settle 21 lawsuits last week in what lawyers are calling one of “the largest privacy-related payouts in history.”

Let’s take a look at how TikTok messed up and whether other social media platforms like Facebook or Instagram have faced similar lawsuits.

What Did TikTok Do Wrong?

TikTok is accused of violating privacy laws in Illinois and California in a court battle that has raged for more than a year. Under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), TikTok and other tech companies must receive written consent from users before collecting data about their identity.

The lawyers representing TikTok users claim the app “clandestinely vacuumed up” a crazy amount of private data that could be used to identify and track users without permission. They claim TikTok even mined data from draft videos that were never shared publicly on the app. This is especially nefarious when you consider that the majority of users in the case are minors—some are as young as 6 years old! 😑

Investigators hired by the attorneys reportedly found that TikTok went to great lengths to hide what it was doing. The company allegedly went so far as to hide the source code that would reveal the extent of their data collection.

“First, it provides compensation for TikTok users, but equally as important, it ensures TikTok will respect its users’ privacy going forward,” Katrina Carroll, one of the lawyers for TikTok users, told the press. “Social media seems so innocuous, but troubling data collection, storage, and disclosure can happen behind the scenes.”

If approved, the settlement will end the 21 proposed class actions. The $92 million settlement will apply to 89 million U.S. users whose personal data was allegedly collected and sold to advertisers in violation of state and federal law.

What’s Next for TikTok?

A spokesperson for TikTok told the press that while the company disagrees with the allegations, the company decided to settle the case was in its best interest.

“Rather than go through lengthy litigation, we’d like to focus our efforts on building a safe and joyful experienced for the TikTok community,” a spokesperson for the company said.

Under the proposed terms of the settlement, TikTok won’t record its users’ biometric data. This biometrics data like facial characteristics and GPS location data. The company will also stop sending data from U.S. users overseas and won’t collect data on draft videos before they are published.

This wasn’t TikTok’s first run-in with the law because of suspected privacy violations. Federal regulators have investigated the company’s data collection practices of minors before. In 2019, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fined TikTok $5.7 million over allegations the app illegally collected personal information from children. 😲

Have Other Social Media Platforms Been Sued Like This?

The TikTok settlement is obviously a big deal from a privacy standpoint, but the tech giant isn’t the only bad player in the social media game. Facebook, for example, agreed to pay $650 million to settle a similar suit from 2015. It was accused of illegally collecting and storing biometric data of millions of users.

In the Facebook suit, lawyers argued that the tech giant created “face templates” using biometric data collected by its facial recognition tools. These templates were used to help users tag photos with suggested matches, which the suit argued violated BIPA. A federal judge approved the settlement to end the class-action lawsuit just last Friday. Every class member interested in being compensated will receive at least $345. 💰

Instagram was also hit with a privacy-related lawsuit in Illinois for committing similar BIPA violations. It is accused of collecting and storing the biometric data of millions of users without their consent. The lawsuit claims Facebook’s face-tagging tool automatically scans the faces of everyone in your posts—including people who don’t use Instagram.

A spokesperson for Instagram’s parent company, Facebook, called the lawsuit “baseless.” If Instagram is found responsible, it could end up being fined between $1,000 and $5,000 per violation for as many as 100 million Instagram users. That could total an astonishing $500 billion! But if the 2015 lawsuit against Facebook took five years to go through court, who knows how long the Instagram one will take? There is hope, though, considering the TikTok suit only took a year.

This stuff can feel complicated, and a lot of people might even wonder what the big deal is. But the truth is that your online privacy is important, and no company should share your personal information here or overseas without your consent. If you have concerns about what kind of data these social media platforms are collecting from you or your family, call a social media attorney for help!