23 Jun 2021

How Will TikTok Use Our Biometric Data?

Startup, Venture Capital, TikTok, Privacy, Biometric data

TikTok is collecting more user data than ever before. But will it be handled responsibly?

TikTok has rolled out an amended privacy policy that allows the app to collect and store the “faceprints and voiceprints” of its US users.

The app, whose permissions already include extensive harvesting of usage and engagement data, can now also identify objects and scenery around users, pick out “body features and attributes” and translate words spoken by users into stored text.

The new privacy policy comes in the midst of rocky relations between TikTok and its US consumer base. The amendment follows hot on the heels of a $92 million settlement paid to the US over the app’s violation of Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act.

The lawsuit, filed in May 2020, consolidated over 20 separate cases in which TikTok had unlawfully used its facial filter technology to collect biometric data without its users’ consent.

Indeed, the app only remains operational in the US at all because of President Biden, who has halted an appeal by the federal government to ban TikTok from the US market. Being owned by Chinese parent company ByteDance, the Trump administration viewed the app, and its collection of American metadata, as a national security risk.

TikTok, Social Media, Startup, Venture Capital, Apps

TikTok. Image via Ndiy13/bigstockphoto.com

TikTok has stated on record that its US user data, including IP addresses, GPS, and information about users’ devices and files, is stored only in its US data centres, and in Singapore. The company also claims that it has never shared this user data with the Chinese government and that it would never do so if asked.

Even so, TikTok’s history of less-than responsible handling of its users’ data, has some worries about its new freedoms, especially when no one is sure exactly what those freedoms are. The amended privacy policy states that:

“[TikTok] may collect biometric identifiers and biometric information…such as faceprints and voiceprints, from your User Content. Where required by law, we will seek any required permissions from you prior to any such collection”.

But the statement does not clarify whether the policy will operate at the state or the federal level. Since only a few states, including Illinois and Washington, have biometric privacy laws, it’s possible that users living in other states will not be asked before their data is collected.

Since only a few states, including Illinois and Washington, have biometric privacy laws, it’s possible that users living in other states will not be asked before their data is collected.

What’s more, TikTok has not elaborated on what a “faceprint” or “voiceprint” actually is, leaving fans of the app in the dark about just what information they are actually giving up.

But it isn’t all bad. TikTok is working hard to regain the trust of its US users, employing a privacy and security hub to help them understand its evolving privacy policies.

What’s more, the new features provide exciting new ways for users to engage with the app; recognizing where people and scenery are within certain images allows the app to project augmented reality features into user-captured scenes, and transcribing users’ spoken words allows more accurate captions to be provided for hard-of-hearing users.

Ultimately, how you feel about TikTok’s ever-expanding rights when it comes to user data depends on how much you enjoy the app’s services.

Most fans online have only acknowledged the new policy in meme form, expressing their impatience at having to continually minimize the popup notification announcing its launch.

TikTok may know a lot about us, but it seems that’s the price we’re willing to pay for the community it provides.

Header Image: Donald Trump and Tik Tok. Images via Alexander Shatov, Library of Congress under Unsplash. Split image via Floww.

Data Privacy
social media
Tik Tok