Social Media Privacy

It is no secret how pervasive social media has become in our society. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Linkedin, TikTok all worm their way into our day-to-day consciousness demanding we post text and pictures describing our current exploits. Even something as mundane as last night’s dinner or someone else’s cute kitten at play must be posted, shared, and commented upon (and hopefully, “liked”).

However, our social posting addiction has a potentially negative side effect. Artificial intelligence (AI) combined with the harvesting of photos, videos, and postings can discern buying patterns and recommendations for further purchases. Although marketing products may be relatively benign, there are other purposes that may be gained from the skillful use of data, photos, and other personal information we freely give to the gaping maw of social engagement.

TikTok Privacy Violation

The design and technology site Gizmodo reported that TikTok had attempted to modify its privacy policy allowing TikTok to automatically collect mountains of voice and face data from U.S. users. In a series of 21 lawsuits, many filed on behalf of minors, plaintiffs accused TikTok and a now-defunct sister app,, of using a “complex system of artificial intelligence to recognize facial features in users’ videos”.

The AI used that collected data to determine a user’s age, race/ethnicity, and gender in order to recommend content and profiles for the user.

TikTok agreed to settle a $92 million class action lawsuit allowing any TikTok user prior to Sept. 30 to apply for restitution. Court documents related to the case state:

“By utilizing this private and biometric information, 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…”

Suits were filed in Illinois where the Biometric Information Privacy Act grants the right to sue companies accessing biometric data without consent.

TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, denied that it ran afoul of the law, agreeing to settle the suits in order to avoid going to trial. In a statement, ByteDance 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.

As part of the suit, TikTok has also agreed to stop disclosing users’ personal data to third parties like Facebook and Google, according to NBC News, and will also cease to record users’ facial features and track their location using GPS.

The questions each social media user should be asking right now are:

  • What are companies doing with my photos, videos, and online presence?
  • Is my personal information being used for something I approve of?
  • Am I protected from misuse of my personal information?

For a great many of us, our answer to all three questions would be the same: “I don’t know”.

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