The Chinese company ByteDance, the owner of the TikTok short-video service, agreed to pay $92 million in a class action lawsuit over privacy violations of certain American TikTok users. The settlement, which still requires court approval, was reached after expert examination of the TikTok source code, as well as extensive mediation efforts.
TikTok has over 100 million users in the United States. According to documents filed with the U.S. District Court in Illinois, ByteDance has agreed to a settlement after more than a year of litigation.
TikTok officials noted that they disagree with the claims, but prefer to focus on providing a safe and interesting environment for the TikTok user community, rather than engaging in lengthy legal disputes.
“While we disagree with the assertions, rather than go through lengthy litigation, we’d like to focus our efforts on building a safe and joyful experience for the TikTok community,” TikTok’s representative said Thursday.
The lawsuit claimed that TikTok collects a wide range of personal user data, including biometric data, without the knowledge of American users. According to the plaintiffs, the application profiles and tracks users to target ads and generate revenue. More than twenty cases have been consolidated in the class action, with some claims being filed on behalf of users who are barely eight years old. The plaintiffs argue that the personal data collected by TikTok was then transferred to third parties without the knowledge of users. Moreover, this data was processed on some servers in China.
At the same time, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the U.S. Department of Justice are investigating whether the company has complied with the 2019 agreement to protect children's privacy.
Last year, U.S. authorities announced plans to block TikTok in the U.S., claiming the app threatens the country's national security. In an effort to avoid blocking, ByteDance agreed to sell its U.S. assets to Oracle and Walmart.
Under the terms of the deal, ByteDance was required to register the American independent company TikTok Global. 20% of this company should have been owned by U.S resident enterprises, the remaining 80% would have been retained by ByteDance.
Plans changed after Joe Biden became the country's new president. To date, ByteDance has pulled out of its deal with Oracle and Walmart. The new administration plans to conduct its own assessment of the security risks of TikTok users' data in the United States.