TikTok Sued For Biometrics Privacy Violations

Popular social media app TikTok was sued in a class action complaint filed by plaintiffs P.S. and M.T.W. through their respective guardians Cherise Slate and Brenda Washington, for violations of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA). TikTok was sued “in its individual capacity as the successor-in-interest to Musical.ly.” ByteDance was sued as the parent company of TikTok.

TikTok allows users to “create, view, and share three to fifteen-second videos of dancing, lip-syncing, and other forms of self-expression, as well as short looping videos of three to sixty seconds.” The complaint said TikTok is geared toward young people. “Sixty percent of active users are between the ages of 16 and 24, and about seventy percent of ten-year old girls with smartphones used the App at some point in 2019.” The app is very popular with 1.3 billion worldwide downloads and 120 million downloads in the United States.

The plaintiffs alleged that TikTok “implemented an artificial intelligence tool in the App that automatically scans the faces of individuals in videos to estimate the subjects’ ages” to allow users to “superimpose animated facial filters onto the moving faces of video subjects.” For these features to work, they “require the scanning and/or mapping of a user’s biologically unique facial geometry and/or facial landmarks.” Despite allegedly collecting and using this information, TikTok does not inform users that their biometric information is being “collected, captured, received, obtained, stored, and/or used by the App. Nor do the defendants disclose what they do with that data, who has access to that data, and whether, where, and for how long that data is stored.” This is particularly concerning to the plaintiffs, considering a significant portion of the user base are minors and TikTok did not obtain parental consent for these actions.

BIPA protects biometrics information because the data are “biologically unique to the individual; therefore, once compromised, the individual has no recourse, is at heightened risk for identity theft, and is likely to withdraw from biometric-facilitated transactions.” As a result, BIPA requires certain measures to be taken to safeguard biometrics and to properly access this information.

The minor plaintiffs claimed that they were not informed about the collection and use of their biometrics nor did TikTok obtain consent for the use of this information. They did not provide a written release form as required by BIPA. ByteDance informs users in its other apps, such as VigoVideo and Douyin, that it collects biometrics, but it failed to do so on TikTok. They additionally alleged that TikTok was reckless, negligent in its deliberate collection and use of biometric information without consent.

TikTok has faced its fair share of privacy concerns. In December 2019, it was sued regarding COPPA violations, it was banned by the Army and Navy as well as the TSA.

The plaintiffs are represented by Hausfeld LLP and Burns Charest LLP. The complaint was filed in the Northern District of California.