Updated Dec 8, 2022 - Economy & Business

Indiana attorney general sues TikTok over child safety, data privacy concerns

Photo of a phone displaying the TikTok app on Apple's App Store

The TikTok app as sen on the Apple app store on July 18, 2021. Photo: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita (R) announced Wednesday that he is suing TikTok for allegedly failing to protect children from mature content and deceiving users about the Chinese government's ability to access their data.

Why it matters: None of the allegations are new to TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese company Bytedance. The platform, like its peers, has faced heightened scrutiny in recent years amid growing concern over social media apps' influence on children and adolescents.

For the record: TikTok chief pperating officer Vanessa Pappas testified at a Senate hearing in September that the company doesn’t store U.S. user data in China and doesn’t share any with Bytedance.

Detail: The first lawsuit alleges that TikTok pushes "salacious and inappropriate content to all young U.S. users 13 and up for unlimited periods of time, day and night, in an effort to line TikTok’s pockets with billions of dollars from U.S. consumers."

  • The state claims that TikTok presents its platform as safe and appropriate for users between the ages of 13 and 17 but actually allows and recommends searches for mature content, such as posts with "intense" sexual themes or drug references.
  • "In light of this abundant and serious sexual content and mature or suggestive themes, TikTok misleads and deceives Indiana consumers by choosing 'infrequent/mild' to describe the quantity and nature of these types of material," the lawsuit argues.
  • The second lawsuit accuses TikTok of misleading consumers about the risk of the Chinese government accessing and exploiting their data, echoing the FBI's warnings about the platform.

What they're saying: "The TikTok app is a malicious and menacing threat unleashed on unsuspecting Indiana consumers by a Chinese company that knows full well the harms it inflicts on users," Rokita said in a statement.

  • "At the very least, the company owes consumers the truth about the age-appropriateness of its content and the insecurity of the data it collects on users," Rokita added.
  • "With this pair of lawsuits, we hope to force TikTok to stop its false, deceptive and misleading practices, which violate Indiana law."

The other side: TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter declined to comment on the lawsuit, but said in a statement that "the safety, privacy and security of our community is our top priority."

  • "We build youth well-being into our policies, limit features by age, empower parents with tools and resources, and continue to invest in new ways to enjoy content based on age-appropriateness or family comfort," Oberwetter added.
  • "We are also confident that we're on a path in our negotiations with the U.S. Government to fully satisfy all reasonable U.S. national security concerns, and we have already made significant strides toward implementing those solutions."

The big picture: TikTok has moved to shore up protections for youth since it agreed to a $5.7 million settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in 2019 over allegations of illegally collecting personal data from children.

Worth noting: In May, a bipartisan group of attorneys general announced a probe into whether TikTok is hurting children and teens' mental health.

Go deeper: Texas becomes latest state to ban TikTok on government devices

Editor's note: This article has been updated with comment from TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter.

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