Caixin
Jul 29, 2021 08:43 PM
BUSINESS & TECH

China’s TikTok Denies Facial Scanning Tech Collects Personal Data

ByteDance says Douyin’s special effects are not facial recognition. Photo: VCG
ByteDance says Douyin’s special effects are not facial recognition. Photo: VCG

ByteDance Inc. denied that its Douyin app, the Chinese version of TikTok, uses facial scanning technology to access users’ personal information, saying the data it collects via the special effects function is inadequate to recognize a person’s identity.

When users select the short video app’s special effects features for use in their videos, it will not be uploaded to company servers, Yang Hui, a special effects expert at ByteDance told Caixin at a Wednesday event.

“Simply put, Douyin’s special effects are not facial recognition,” said Yang.

The comments illustrate how ByteDance is attempting to reassure users and regulators over privacy and security concerns involving facial recognition technology. The company in February agreed to pay $92 million to settle privacy lawsuits in the U.S. claiming its global short video unit TikTok illegally recorded facial-scan images of users and disclosed private data to third parties.

ByteDance started to develop their own video special effects in 2017 as it found they resulted in users posting more content. In the first half of 2021, 80 million users added special effects for the first time to their published content and one-in-five videos published on Douyin used special effects, the company announced at the event.

Douyin’s daily active users had surpassed 600 million by the end last year, according to company data.

When users apply special effects to images of their faces, Douyin only collects the data of a few points on their facial features and the data will only be used in their own devices, Yang said.

But concerns have been mounting over the potential abuse of facial recognition, especially “deepfake” technology, by artificial intelligence-powered video apps which could result in leaks of personal information and realistic doctored videos and news. In 2019, the U.S. Congress passed an act that mandated deepfakes to be watermarked for the purpose of identification.

Former U.S. president Donald Trump launched a series of investigations and banned the app, although that has since been lifted by his successor President Joe Biden. India banned the app last year over cybersecurity concerns in the wake of border skirmishes with China.

The China-based tech giant also faced backlash from overseas users. Earlier this year, ByteDance said it agreed to pay $92 million to settle privacy lawsuits filed in 2020 by dozens of users claiming the app illegally recorded facial-scan images of users and disclosed private data to third parties.

Contact reporter Guo Yingzhe (yingzheguo@caixin.com) and editor Flynn Murphy  (flynnmurphy@caixin.com)

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