Social video app TikTok has agreed to pay $92 million to settle claims that it violated a wide range of data protection laws, including the federal video privacy law and an Illinois law regarding biometric information.
If accepted by U.S. District Court Judge John Lee in the Northern District of Illinois, the settlement will resolve litigation dating to last year, when TikTok users throughout the country brought a total of 21 class-action complaints against the company. Those cases were eventually consolidated into one matter, in federal court in Illinois.
A TikTok spokesperson said: "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.”
Among other claims, the users alleged that TikTok, owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, violated the federal Video Privacy Protection Act -- a 1988 law that prohibits some companies from disclosing personally identifiable information about the videos people watch.
TikTok allegedly violated that law by disclosing data about users' video-viewing history, along with device identifiers and advertising identifiers, to Facebook and Google, according to the complaint.
Other companies faced with similar claims have argued that device identifiers are not “personally identifiable information.”
Judges throughout the country have reached different conclusions about that question.
In 2016, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Gannett may have violated the video privacy law by allegedly transmitting device identifiers, GPS data and vide-viewing history to Adobe.
But the following year, the 9th Circuit ruled that ESPN did not violate a federal video privacy law by allegedly transmitting Roku serial numbers to Adobe.
The judges said in that case that an "ordinary person" wouldn't be able to determine someone's identity simply by knowing a device serial number.
The lawsuit against TikTok also alleged that the company violated an Illinois biometric privacy law that prohibits companies from collecting people's faceprints without their consent.
Numerous tech companies, including Google and Facebook, have faced lawsuits for allegedly violating that law.
Google is currently fighting those claims, but Facebook recently agreed to pay $650 million to settle a class-action alleging the company compiled a database of Illinois residents' facial templates.
The Federal Trade Commission previously fined TikTok $5.7 million for allegedly violating the Children's Online Privacy Act by collecting data from children under 13 without their parents' permission.
The fine stemmed from an investigation into the app Musical.ly, which was acquired by TikTok parent Bytedance in late 2017, and merged into TikTok the following year.
The Trump administration had sought to ban TikTok in the U.S. over security concerns, but courts blocked the ban from going forward.
The current White House is evaluating whether to resume efforts to block the company.