If you used TikTok — or its predecessor, Musical.ly — before Oct. 1, you may be eligible for compensation as part of a $92 million settlement against the app.
TikTok users received a notification from the app Monday about submitting a claim for compensation. Some expressed confusion on social media and questioned whether the notification was part of a larger scam.
The settlement is real. TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, agreed in February to pay $92 million as part of a class-action payout to settle allegations that it harvested personal data from users without their consent.
As part of the settlement, which affects an estimated 89 million TikTok users, the company would have to change and disclose its data collection practices.
What is this lawsuit?
The settlement is the result of an amalgamation of 21 lawsuits, many of which were filed on behalf of minors.
Documents filed in U.S. District Court in Illinois allege that TikTok uses a “complex system of artificial intelligence to recognize facial features in users’ videos” and that it analyzes faces to “determine the user’s age, race/ethnicity, and gender … to recommend content and profiles for the user to follow.”
“By utilizing this private and biometric information,” the suit continues, “TikTok maintains a competitive advantage over other social media apps and profits from its use of improperly obtained data, all while failing to comply with the minimum requirements for handling users’ biometric data established by” the state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act, which guarantees people the right to take action against companies that collect biometric data without consent.
The plaintiffs allege that TikTok violated the act, which prohibits companies’ using facial recognition to identify users or add them to a database of “faceprints” without explicit permission, according to the Cardozo School of Law’s journal, the Cardozo Law Review.
Illinois is the only state that allows people to sue companies for violating biometric privacy laws.
The suit also claims that TikTok mined users’ information from draft videos that were never posted.
TikTok, which has denied all allegations, said it settled for the payout to prevent the case from going to trial.
“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,” the company said in a statement following the February settlement agreement.
TikTok will delete certain swaths of user data as part of the settlement. The court documents didn’t disclose whether the company would specifically delete facial recognition data it has already collected, as Facebook said this month it would do, but TikTok said it won’t continue collecting biometric data.
Under the settlement, TikTok agreed to stop recording users’ facial features and other biometric information, stop tracking user location with GPS, stop collecting information from users’ drafts and no longer store or transmit U.S. users’ data outside the country — unless it discloses so in its privacy policies.
TikTok also agreed to no longer disclose users’ personal data to third parties like Facebook and Google and to delete unposted, unsaved user-generated videos from its servers.
Who is eligible for the settlement? How much will you actually get?
Although parent company ByteDance is set to pay a hefty settlement, individuals aren’t likely to walk away with that much.
U.S. residents who used TikTok before Oct. 1 are eligible to submit claims. Illinois residents are eligible for a larger share of the settlement pool.
Each person is eligible for one share of the divided settlement. Illinois residents can get six shares of the divided payments.
Parents can submit claims on behalf of their minor children.
If everyone eligible submits a claim, most will get only about 96 cents after attorneys’ fees, which are “not to exceed 33.33 percent” of the fund, are deducted. Illinois residents can get up to $5.75.
The filed documents say the claim rate will affect individual payouts. If only 1.5 percent of eligible TikTok users submit claims, Illinois residents could receive $383.33 and non-Illinois residents could get $63.89.
If 20 percent of eligible users submit claims, Illinois residents could get $28.75 and non-Illinois residents could get $4.79.
How do you submit a claim?
To submit a claim, visit the TikTok data privacy settlement website. Claims must be submitted by March 1.
Settlement class members can also object to the settlement by writing a letter to the court by Jan. 31.
Payments will be made only after the court grants final approval of the settlement at a hearing scheduled for May 18. If the court approves the deal, payments would be made electronically through PayPal, Venmo or prepaid Mastercards.