Invasion of privacy on Tiktok

The social platform paid users $92 million for violations in Illinois law.


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Social media platform Tikok is under fire for its collection of facial recognition data from users.

   On October 26, 1.4 million users of the popular video sharing app, Tiktok, were given up to $168 in a virtual prepaid card. This comes as a result of 21 lawsuits issued against the app’s owner ByteDance for breach in privacy violations. In total, $92 million were paid to users in settlements.

   When opening the app, users can see a variety of different videos on their ‘for you’ page. Here, videos from millions of creators are shown to users based on the ways they interact with other posts. The tiktok algorithm is notably specific in what videos they show users. However, tiktok also uses data sourced from things other than what users choose to like or comment on.

   “They invaded [the] privacy of many people, including minors,” tiktok user freshman Alex Baker said. 

   According to the U.S. District Court in Illinois, tiktok uses a ‘complex system of artificial intelligence to recognize facial features in users’ videos. This allows the app to ‘determine the user’s age, race/ethnicity, and gender … to recommend content and profiles for the user to follow’. The collection of this data violates Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), which states that usage of facial recognition data without user’s consent is unlawful. 

   “I don’t think that they should be allowed to [collect personal data] because I’d rather have what I search be just for me,” Baker said. ”They could find out personal information about me.”

   Not all users of the app received money from the settlement though. As the case was held for the violation of Illinois’ BIPA, only Illinois residents were eligible to claim a violation of the policy. This means users from the rest of the U.S. are unprotected from their personal data being collected.

   “Apps shouldn’t legally be able to collect any personal information that they don’t openly share on the app,” junior Meredith Ober said.

   Both Ober and Baker agree that collecting data without user consent is invasive and unsafe, and Baker believes only information such as email phone number, name, and gender are within app’s right to collect. According to a Washington Post survey, 72% of internet users distrust social media apps, despite there being 86.9 million Americans on Tiktok alone.

   “I don’t really tend to give much thought to [apps collecting personal data],” Ober said. “I’m aware of it, but it’s not something that I think about when I use those apps.”

   A majority of the data collected by Tiktok is used to improve their algorithm and show users videos they may like, however, some of it is used by outside companies to show geared advertisements. Ober feels that this process should not be allowed. 

   “I definitely feel that the app is less safe than what I thought,” Baker said. “[I] will be more careful about what I do [on Tiktok]”.