Litigation Update: TikTok Settles Biometrical Privacy MDL with $92M Deal

by | Mar 1, 2021

A $92M deal is undergoing approval to settle claims between TikTok and its users for biometric privacy violations against parent company ByteDance in Illinois Federal Court.

Plaintiffs allege that TikTok does not inform users, many of whom are teenagers and children, that the application collects, and stores their biometric identifiers without any form of written permission to do so as clearly required by the Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA).

TikTok has denied privacy violations, stating that the company is focused on creating an enjoyable experience for users, and would like to avoid litigation. The company asserts that the claims are subject to the arbitration and class action agreement signed upon registering for the application, and that users were placed on adequate notice as a result. TikTok further argues that the app is not capable of tagging or labeling faces as the lawsuit describes. However, they concede that the app does in fact collect age and gender characteristics, but describe that this is fundamentally different than what the lawsuit indicates is the alleged violation.

Under the current agreement, TikTok and ByteDance have agreed to pay $92 million to create a settlement fund to benefit the members of the class. TikTok has also agreed not to collect any biometric or geolocation data from now on. Furthermore, the company will be required to revisit its training on compliance and data privacy laws for both employees and contractors.

This settlement marks a landmark case in biometric and data privacy law as it addresses a more nebulous argument of what constitutes biometric privacy under BIPA. It will be very interesting to see how this litigation might establish precedent for other social media platforms such as SnapChat, Instagram and Vine who provide similar services and likely collect similar information to better understand their user base.

UPDATE: Since the time this blog post was published, some objections to the amount of the $92 million settlement have stalled the approval of the agreement. U.S. District Judge John Z. Lee has requested more information as to how the parties arrived at the deal amount, as his first reaction was that it was “embarrassingly low” for the projected claims. The judge would like to know how this number addresses the differences between adult and minor users, and why class members could not simply be notified of the deal through the app itself.

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