Recently, TikTok managed to discretely update its policies to allow the platform to collect users’ faceprints and voiceprints. The update has been shocking to some, especially given the context that TikTok’s already been in hot water due to its alleged ties with the Chinese government. After word got out of TikTok’s policy change, a pair of US senators are calling on TikTok to be more transparent about the data it will be collecting and how it will use it.
The bipartisan group of senators (Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. and John Thune, R-SD) sent a letter to Shou Zi Chew, the CEO of TikTok. The letter states that they’re “alarmed” by the policy changes and worry the platform will use the user data (such as physical and behavioral characteristics) for potentially nefarious acts.
What are the senators calling for TikTok to do?
In their letter, Klobuchar and Thune seek to get the answers to a few questions. One of the questions asked was what TikTok considers a faceprint and a voiceprint. They also want to know if third parties can access this information. There’s also a question regarding whether TikTok will collect data from users under 18 (which violates COPPA law). Additionally, the senators set a time limit for TikTok to answer. As of this writing, TikTok has one week to respond to their questions.
As NPR points out, the U.S. doesn’t have any federal laws preventing companies from tracking biometric data (such as face and audio data). However, there are a few states that do have privacy laws that protect consumers’ biometric information. This includes California, Illinois, Texas and Washington.
The US cautiously proceeds
Both the Trump and Biden administration have been at odds with TikTok. The Trump administration tried to ban downloads of the app in the U.S. entirely; however, it fell short. Biden has taken a less aggressive approach to TikTok, but still is wary about the platform’s intentions.
TikTok continues to claim it hasn’t worked with the Chinese government nor supplied data to it. NPR’s reporting referenced a sworn statement by Roland Cloutier, TikTok’s global chief security officer, that proclaimed TikTok never received any requests from the Chinese government to provide them with user data. He also affirmed the platform wouldn’t supply user data even if asked.
We’ll have to see how TikTok responds to the senators’ questioning. Though, it’s unclear what they will do if the company doesn’t answer in time or even answer at all. Nevertheless, the amount of data TikTok can collect from creators who post to the platform consistently is seemingly immeasurable. While TikTok has opened up a lot of opportunities for creators and firmly inserted itself into competition with the likes of YouTube and Facebook, it’s hard to deny that it potentially puts users at risk of their personal information being left vulnerable.