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TikTok updates US privacy policy to collect ‘faceprints and voiceprints’ (but won’t explain what they are)

TikTok updates US privacy policy to collect ‘faceprints and voiceprints’ (but won’t explain what they are)


TikTok needs to offer meaningful explanations of the data it’s collecting

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

TikTok has updated its privacy policy in the US to notify users that the app might, in future, collect new types of biometric information including “faceprints and voiceprints.” But when reached by The Verge, TikTok was unable to explain what types of data these terms referred to, or why the app might need to access this information in the first place.

The company’s privacy policy was updated on June 2nd, as spotted by TechCrunch. (An archived version of the old policy can be read here.) The new policy lays out in some detail the ways in which the TikTok app now has permission to analyze users’ content.

The policy states:

“We may collect information about the images and audio that are a part of your User Content, such as identifying the objects and scenery that appear, the existence and location within an image of face and body features and attributes, the nature of the audio, and the text of the words spoken in your User Content. We may collect this information to enable special video effects, for content moderation, for demographic classification, for content and ad recommendations, and for other non-personally-identifying operations.”

As is often the case with privacy policies, there’s a lot of conflation here between outcomes that users are probably fine with (like adding video effects) and outcomes they might think are more invasive (like ad targeting and “demographic classification.”) There’s also a lot of broad language used in order to cover any future updates TikTok might add to the platform.

The new privacy policy is more explicit that the app can now collect biometric data — that is, the measurement of physical characteristics, including the aforementioned “faceprints and voiceprints.” The policy says TikTok will seek consent from users before collecting this information, but only when it is required to do so by the law. As TechCrunch notes, this doesn’t mean an awful lot in the US, given that only a few states (including Illinois, Texas, and California) offer these sorts of legal protections. And indeed, TikTok might think that agreeing to its terms of service constitutes all the consent it will need.

It’s possible that the changes to TikTok’s privacy policy are a response to a recent national class action lawsuit against the company, in which it agreed to pay $92 million to claimants alleging a variety of privacy violations. As we reported on the case in February: “As part of the settlement, TikTok has agreed to avoid several behaviors that could compromise user privacy unless it specifically discloses those behaviors in its privacy policy.” When asked if these changes were a response to the class action lawsuit, though, TikTok declined to comment on the record.

In response to various questions about what data the company is now collecting on users, how it defines “faceprints and voiceprints,” what data it might collect in the future, and what it might do with that information, a spokesperson said only: “As part of our ongoing commitment to transparency, we recently updated our Privacy Policy to provide more clarity on the information we may collect.”

There’s more information, yes, but still not a lot of clarity. For an app that has struggled with various privacy issues (the perception of which is often exacerbated by political paranoia), it seems there’s more work yet to do.