May 31, 2023 - News

Why TikTok wants its new data privacy trial held in Illinois

Illustration of a gavel hovering over a phone with an image on the screen of a gavel hovering over a phone, in a recursive pattern.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

TikTok is being sued over data privacy — again. This time, though, the social media giant wants the cases tried in Illinois, which has the nation's toughest privacy laws.

What's happening: The company has requested that the new lawsuits, which accuse TikTok of accessing user data through third-party websites on the app's browser, be heard in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

  • It's the same courtroom where a judge approved a $92 million class-action settlement that sent $167 checks to users in 2022.
  • It's that very settlement that TikTok is expected to use in its legal defense, claiming the company should be immune to more data privacy lawsuits.

What they're saying: "TikTok didn't lose; they settled before really any of the key legal arguments they were making were ruled on," Chicago attorney Melanie Chico, who specializes in Illinois data privacy laws, told Axios.

  • "TikTok is now coming back to the Northern District to ask if these new claims are covered by the $92 million settlement."
  • Lawyers for TikTok told Axios they were not allowed to comment on pending litigation.

Meanwhile, plaintiffs are trying to get a federal court in California to hear the case "because that courtroom wouldn't be as familiar with what happened already in Illinois," Chico said.

Context: States nationwide have enacted tough privacy laws, but Illinois' Biometric Information Privacy Act is considered the toughest in the nation.

  • Passed in 2008, it prohibits sites from collecting biometric data — including facial recognition, fingerprints and voice prints — and sharing it with third-party companies without consent.

Zoom in: BIPA also stands out because it lets lawyers file class-action lawsuits as opposed to having the state's attorney general file the suit.

  • This means there are more opportunities for social media users to get payouts.

What's next: Chico said it could be weeks until the Northern District looks at this case.

  • "This lawsuit and how it plays out in court is going to have a significant impact on how the country looks at privacy issues," Chico said. "If the judge rules that this is outside of the previous settlement, people are going to file like crazy against the other social media companies, too."

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