Online privacy violation class action lawsuits, including the TikTok class action, are becoming more common. In 2022, the Chinese-based social media giant, which has more than a billion monthly users, agreed to pay $93 million to resolve claims it illegally measured and stored biometric data.
Most of the class members were TikTok users from Illinois who posted videos prior to September 30, 2021. The Prairie State has a very strong anti-biometric data collection law. Biometrics is basically facial recognition analysis that’s used for marketing purposes. More on that below.
Also as outlined below, class actions allow many victims to consolidate their complaints into one lawsuit, so they have a better chance to obtain compensation and justice. TikTok allegedly stole personal information from about 89 million users. It would almost take forever for all these actions to wind their way through the legal system. Instead, many of these victims have already received their settlement checks. Additionally, more payments are on the way.
Facial recognition, or biometric data, has its origins in the 19th century pseudoscience of physiognomy. Back then, many scientists believed they could predict criminal behavior based on the shape and characteristics of a person’s head, like:
- Pointy head,
- Scanty beard,
- Skull shaped like a sugar loaf (which is basically a conehead),
- Heavy jaw, and
- Receding brow.
Physiognomy seems laughable today. I have a scanty beard, and I haven’t gone on any crime sprees lately. But it was based on the theory that criminal minds had certain traits and deficiencies, an idea that many scientists still embrace.
According to court documents, Tik Tok was illegally collecting voice and face biometric data online. When a Tik Tok user spoke into a microphone, the company used advanced software to create a voice print. When a user looked at a camera, the company used similar technology to make a convolutional neural network (CNN).
When converted to marketing information, this data enabled companies to be about a half-step faster than the other guys, which is why many companies pay so much money for a seemingly little amount of information.
Class Action Lawsuits
Most class action claims are consumer claims, like the Tik Tok class action lawsuit. All plaintiffs had roughly the same experience, and the number of plaintiffs makes consolidation appropriate. Additionally, one group of lawyers effectively represents everyone in the class.
Usually, there’s strength in numbers. If 90 million people work together in one lawsuit, they’ll have a much bigger impact than 90 million people who chose 90 million different legal options.
Additionally, a single large lawsuit often convinced companies to mend their ways. Tik Tok had been down this road before. In 2019, it paid about $3 million to settle a similar action. But $3 million to a multinational social media giant is like $3 to you and me. $93 million is an attention-grabbing number.