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TikTok Faces Senate Inquiry Over Expanded Biometric Data Collections

(Dylan Smith | Digital Music News) – Short-form 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 inquiry over an “updated privacy policy which allows for the collection of user data, including facial and voice biometrics.”

Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Thune (R-SD) voiced their “serious concerns” with 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 enable TikTok to automatically collect biometric data, including certain physical and behavioral characteristics from video content posted by its users,” the document relays.

“The policy states that TikTok ‘may collect biometric identifiers 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 voiceprint,” the letter proceeds. “In addition, the policy contains few details on how the data is used and with whom it is shared.”

As children and teenagers have increasingly turned to online apps for entertainment and communication amid the pandemic, the text continues, and account for “more than 32 percent of TikTok’s active users,” there’s a “magnified” need to assure that consumers’ personal data is secure.

And “given the seriousness of this issue,” the senators have called on the TikTok head to respond to six questions and information requests by next Wednesday, August 25th.

The first of these to-the-point inquiries asks that the former Goldman Sachs team member define what constitutes a “faceprint” and a “voiceprint,” besides specifying how long the information will be retained and whether it will be shared with third parties. “Please provide a list of all the entities (including parent organizations) that have access to the 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 advertisements,” the letter indicates towards its conclusion. “Does TikTok make any inferences about its users based on faceprints and voiceprints? If so, please describe those in detail.”

At the time of this piece’s publishing, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew – formerly CFO of Xiaomi Technology – didn’t appear to have publicly responded to the senators’ inquiry. Apart from this inquiry, the aforementioned user-data lawsuits, and a child-protection investigation from the European Union, TikTok remains embroiled in a patent-infringement legal battle with competing video-sharing app Triller.

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