TikTok got caught harvesting and selling personal data of minor children without parents’ permission; agreed to pay $92 million to settle class-action lawsuits
Back in June 2020, we wrote about TikTok after the Chinese popular video-sharing app was caught reading data from user clipboards. The report of the eavesdropping came to light after the new feature in Apple iOS 14 notified users that TikTok was reading data from their clipboards without their consent. At the time, TikTok pledged to stop the practice.
Now, TikTok has done it again, but worse. According to a report from the NPR News, TikTok has agreed to pay $92 million to settle dozens of lawsuits, many from minors (some as young as 6 years old), alleging that the ByteDance-owned TikTok amassed users’ personal data without consent and sold it to advertisers.
NPR said that TikTok harvested personal data from users (mostly minors), including information using facial recognition technology, without consent and shared the data with third-parties, some of which were based in China.
“The settlement is the result of 21 federal lawsuits filed mostly on behalf of minors — some as young as 6 years old — that claimed the company engaged in the “theft of private and personally identifiable TikTok user data.”
The proposed settlement, which lawyers in the case have called among the largest privacy-related payouts in history, applies to 89 million TikTok users in the U.S. whose personal data was allegedly tracked and sold to advertisers in violation of state and federal law.
“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, said. “Social media seems so innocuous, but troubling data collection, storage, and disclosure can happen behind the scenes.”
According to NPR, a TikTok spokesperson said while the company disagrees with the assertions in the lawsuit, the company decided to settle the case was in its best interest. However, TikTok spokesperson’s response raises another logical question: Why would a company agree to pay a $92 million settlement for a crime it didn’t commit?
“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 spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, the issue of data harvesting is not new to TikTok. In January 2020, The Department of Defense warned Americans not to use TikTok over national security concerns. Also in February, the FTC fined TikTok $5.7 million for illegally collecting children’s personal information. TikTok is a gaming app launched in 2017 by ByteDance, for markets outside of China.
Also in 2020, U.K. regulators said they were looking into how TikTok collects and uses children’s data. The U.K.’s Information Commissioner’s Office is investigating whether TikTok violated the EU’s data privacy law called GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), which requires companies to provide specific protections related to children’s personal data.