Judge Holds Off on Approval of TikTok Settlement

March 2, 2021 by Sara Wilkerson
TikTok app logo. (Kiichiro Sato/AP)

CHICAGO – A federal judge on Tuesday put off approval of a proposed $92 million class-action settlement by the social media app TikTok, wanting to give attorneys at least 21 days to address his questions about the proposal.

U.S. District Judge John Lee gave the attorneys who negotiated the settlement and those for parties objecting to it until March 23 to file written responses to his questions. 

He’s also scheduled an April 6 hearing, at which he could render his decision to approve or disapprove of the agreement.

Chief among Judge Lee’s concerns Tuesday appeared to be that the settlement made no provision for notice of potential parties to the class action through the TikTok app itself.

Lawyers said such a notification was discussed at length, but in the end they decided overcoming and addressing hurdles to getting it done could bog down the talks on other aspects of the proposed settlement.

Last week the popular social media app agreed to pay $92 million to settle a class-action suit claiming it illegally tracked and shared the personal data of users, including information using facial recognition technology, without their consent.

“This is one of the largest settlements ever achieved in a consumer BIPA [Biometric Information Privacy Act] case, and one of the largest privacy class action settlements,” Ekwan Rhow, a co-lead counsel for the lawsuit, said in a public statement.  

“It serves as a reminder to corporations that privacy matters, and they will be held accountable for violating consumers’ rights.” 

The proposed settlement applies to 89 million TikTok users in the U.S. whose personal data was allegedly tracked and sold to advertisers and other third-parties, some of them based in China, in violation of state and federal law.

Katrina Carroll, one of the lawyers for TikTok users, said the proposed deal not only provides compensation for her clients, “but equally as important, it ensures TikTok will respect its users’ privacy going forward.”

“Social media seems so innocuous, but troubling data collection, storage, and disclosure can happen behind the scenes,” she added.

The settlement is the result of 21 federal lawsuits filed, mostly on behalf of minors, that claimed the company engaged in the “theft of private and personally identifiable TikTok user data.”

A TikTok spokesperson said while the company disagrees with the assertions in the lawsuit, it decided to settle the case rather than engage in lengthy litigation.

Under the proposed terms of the settlement, TikTok will no longer record a user’s biometric information, including facial characteristics, nor track a user’s location using GPS data. 

Former President Donald Trump clamped down on TikTok over its ties to China. The app is owned by Beijing-based tech company ByteDance.

Though the Biden administration has pulled back from its predecessor’s crackdown on TikTok, instead launching a broader review of Americans’ use of Chinese technology, at least one federal entity is continuing to probe the social media platform.

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, an interagency group led by the Treasury Department that probes companies with overseas connections, is in the midst of a national security review of TikTok that may ultimately force changes to the company’s corporate structure.

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