TikTok collects, sells personal data of US users

Occurred: December 2019

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TikTok agreed to pay USD 92 million to settle a class-action complaint filed in California that it collected the private data of 89 million users in the US without their permission, and then sold it to third-party advertisers, including Facebook, Google, and entities in China. 

The lawsuit alleged the company used 'automated software, AI, facial recognition, and other technologies' to collect and profit from sensitive and confidential data on users’ identity, ethnicity, gender, age, location, contact information and other attributes under the guise of a preventative measure to keep minors off the app. 

According to the lawsuit, the app 'clandestinely vacuumed up' huge quantities of private and personally identifiable data that could be used to identify and surveil users without permission. It also asserted that TikTok went to great lengths to hide its data collection and sharing practices by obfuscating its source code, amongst other measures.

The settlement raised concerns about the company's privacy practices, and was seen to underscore its reputed sharing of US user data with Chinese entities. TikTok said it agreed to settle in order to avoid a drawn-out legal battle.

Operator: ByteDance/TikTok

Developer: ByteDance/TikTok
Country: USA

Sector: Media/entertainment/sports/arts

Purpose: Collect personal data 

Technology: Facial recognition

Issue: Privacy
Transparency: Governance; Privacy

Page info
Type: Incident
Published: February 2021
Last updated: December 2021