In that policy update, TikTok indicated that it automatically collects faceprints and voiceprints from the people using its platform. The US does not have any federal laws that prohibit the practice, though there are a handful of states (including Illinois) that require express consent for biometric data collection.
With that in mind, Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Thune (R-SD) are asking TikTok to detail exactly what it is taking when it records a face or voiceprint to its database. The Senators also want to know if TikTok is sharing that information with any third parties and whether or not it is collecting information from users under the age of 18.
TikTok has run afoul of privacy laws in the past, most notably when it paid $92 million to settle a class action lawsuit stemming from violations of Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act. That lawsuit alleged that TikTok gathered face biometrics without consent, and then sold that data to its advertisers.
The company’s ties to China have also attracted scrutiny from US lawmakers and national security advisors, who worry that any information gathered through the app could be exploited as part of a broader intelligence operation that targets the US public. The Trump administration tried to ban the app in 2020, and while the Biden administration has pulled back slightly, it is conducting a security review of apps that have been associated with foreign powers.
TikTok is owned by the Chinese tech giant ByteDance, but the company has insisted that it does not share any US user information with its Chinese parent, nor does it store that information domestically in China. However, the Chinese government does have a one percent stake in ByteDance’s Beijing subsidiary.
As it stands, TikTok is the most downloaded app in the United States, with more than 100 million users in the country. The app is not available in China, though ByteDance’s Douyin app offers a similar utility to the local population.
August 20, 2021 – by Eric Weiss