Indiana AG Sues TikTok Over Safety and Security Concerns

Indiana AG Todd Rokita announced the filing of two separate lawsuits against TikTok.

Source: CNN | Published on December 8, 2022

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On Wednesday, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita announced the filing of two separate lawsuits against TikTok, accusing the company of making false claims about the safety of user data and age-appropriate content.

“The TikTok app is a malicious and menacing threat unleashed on unsuspecting Indiana consumers by a Chinese company that is well aware of the harm it causes users,” Rokita said in a statement. “We hope that by filing these two lawsuits, we will be able to force TikTok to stop its false, deceptive, and misleading practices, which violate Indiana law.”

The lawsuits are the most serious action taken by a state against TikTok in recent months, as state and federal officials have become increasingly concerned about TikTok. Also on Tuesday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an order prohibiting the use of TikTok on state-issued devices, citing the risk of “gaining access to critical U.S. information and infrastructure,” following the lead of several other states, including South Dakota and Maryland.

TikTok does not comment on pending litigation, but a company spokesperson stated that “the safety, privacy, and security of our community is our top priority.”

“We incorporate youth well-being into our policies, limit features by age, provide tools and resources to parents, and continue to invest in new ways to enjoy content based on age-appropriateness or family comfort,” the spokesperson said. “We are also confident that we are on the right track in our negotiations with the United States Government to fully address all reasonable U.S. national security concerns, and we have already made significant progress toward implementing those solutions.”

The first lawsuit, filed on Tuesday, claims TikTok lures children onto the platform by falsely claiming it is suitable for users aged 13 to 17, according to CNN.

According to the lawsuit, American teens spend an average of 99 minutes per day on the app, during which time they are exposed to content that includes drug and alcohol use, nudity, and intense profanity.
According to the lawsuit, minors’ behavior can be negatively influenced by this exposure.

A second lawsuit, filed on Wednesday, claims TikTok has “reams” of highly sensitive data and personal information about Indiana consumers and that the company “has misled those consumers into believing that this information is protected from the Chinese government and Communist Party.”

According to the lawsuit, TikTok’s European privacy policy has been updated “to clearly state that it permits individuals outside of Europe, including China, to access European user data,” but the company “has made no such update to its US privacy policy, which applies to Indiana consumers, explicitly informing them that their data is accessed by individuals and entities in China.”

Both suits seek monetary civil penalties against TikTok as well as injunctive relief.

TikTok has been dealing with bipartisan concerns in Washington for years about the possibility that US user data could end up in the hands of the Chinese government and be used to undermine US interests, owing to a national security law in China that requires companies based there to cooperate with data requests. In addition, there has been renewed criticism of TikTok this year, following a Buzzfeed News report in June alleging that some US user data was repeatedly accessed from China. According to the report, audio recordings of dozens of internal TikTok meetings were leaked, including one in which a TikTok employee allegedly said, “Everything is seen in China.”

TikTok previously stated in response to the report that it “has consistently maintained that our engineers in locations outside of the US, including China, can be granted as-needed access to US user data under those strict controls.” The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a multi-agency government body charged with reviewing business deals involving foreign ownership, has been negotiating with TikTok for months on a proposal to address concerns that Chinese government authorities may seek access to the data TikTok holds on US citizens.

Earlier this year, a TikTok executive testified before a Senate panel that the company does not share information with the Chinese government and that a US-based security team decides who can access US user data from China, but he stopped short of committing to cutting off flows of US user data to China.

After skyrocketing in popularity during the Covid-19 pandemic, the popular video-based app has also raised concerns about the safety of its young users. Last year, TikTok’s Head of Public Policy Michael Beckerman testified alongside executives from Snap and YouTube at a Senate hearing on children’s safety, saying TikTok is working to “keep its platform safe and create age appropriate experiences,” but that “we do know trust must be earned.”

Earlier this year, a group of state attorneys general announced an investigation into TikTok’s impact on young Americans, with a focus on the app’s user engagement techniques and alleged risks to children’s mental health. (At the time, TikTok stated that it limits its features based on age, provides tools and resources to parents, and designs its policies with young people’s well-being in mind.)