TikTok faces Senate investigation over extensive biometric data collections

Photo credit: Solen Feyissa

Shortcut video-sharing app TikTok has long been the target of user privacy criticism – and a number of related lawsuits. Now, the ByteDance subsidiary is officially facing a Senate investigation over an “updated privacy policy that allows the collection of user data, including facial and voice biometrics.”

Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Thune (R-SD) expressed “serious concerns” about the app’s current privacy policy in a two-page letter addressed to TikTok CEO (and ByteDance CFO) Shou Zi Chew. “The updated policy appears to allow TikTok to automatically collect biometric data, including certain physical and behavioral characteristics, from video content posted by its users,” the document said.

“The policy states that TikTok ‘may collect biometric IDs and biometric information’ from its users’ content, such as ‘faceprints and voiceprints,’ but does not provide any additional information on what constitutes a faceprint. or vocal,” the letter continues. “Furthermore, the policy contains few details about how the data is used and with whom it is shared.”

As kids and teens increasingly turn to online apps for entertainment and communication amid the pandemic, the text continues, and make up “more than 32% of active TikTok users,” there is a “amplified” need to ensure that consumers’ personal data is secure.

And “given the seriousness of this file”, the senators called on the head of TikTok to answer six questions and requests for information by Wednesday, August 25.

The first of these specific questions asks the former Goldman Sachs team member to define what constitutes a “faceprint” and a “voiceprint”, in addition to specifying how long the information will be retained and if it will be shared with third parties. “Please provide a list of all entities (including parent organizations) that have access to data collected by TikTok,” the senators also wrote.

“Your privacy policy states that TikTok may collect image and audio information for ‘content and ad recommendations.’ Please provide a description of TikTok’s process for recommending content and ads,” the letter reads. his conclusion: “Does TikTok make inferences about its users based on facial and voice prints? If so, please describe them in detail.

At the time of this article’s publication, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew – formerly the CFO of Xiaomi Technology – did not appear to have publicly responded to the senators’ inquiry. In addition to this investigation, the aforementioned lawsuits over user data, and a child protection investigation by the European Union, TikTok remains embroiled in a patent infringement legal battle with rival video-sharing app Triller.

Norman D. Briggs