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Indiana Attorney General files lawsuits against TikTok

<i>Marijan Murat/dpa/picture-alliance/AP</i><br/>On December 7
Marijan Murat/picture-alliance/d
Marijan Murat/dpa/picture-alliance/AP
On December 7

By Clare Duffy, CNN Business

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita on Wednesday announced he has filed two separate lawsuits against TikTok, which accuse 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 knows full well the harms it inflicts on users,” Rokita said in a statement. “With this pair of lawsuits, we hope to force TikTok to stop its false, deceptive, and misleading practices, which violate Indiana law.”

The lawsuits mark the most serious action taken yet by a state against TikTok, amid increasing attention to and concern about TikTok from state and federal officials in recent months. Also on Tuesday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered state agencies to ban TikTok use on government-issued devices, citing the threat 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 said, “the safety, privacy and security of our community is our top priority,” according to a statement from a company spokesperson.

“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,” the spokesperson said. “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 first lawsuit, which was filed on Tuesday, alleges that TikTok lures children onto the platform by falsely claiming it is friendly for users between 13 to 17 years old.

American teens spend an average of 99 minutes per day on the app, the lawsuit claims, and in that time they’re exposed to content that can contain drug and alcohol use, nudity and intense profanity.

The suit claims this exposure can negatively influence the behaviors of minors.

A second lawsuit, filed on Wednesday, alleges that TikTok has “reams” of highly sensitive data and personal information about consumers in Indiana and that the company “has deceived those consumers to believe that this information is protected from the Chinese government and Communist Party,” the media release said.

The lawsuit claims that 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,” while the company has “made no such update to its U.S privacy policy, which applies to Indiana consumers, explicitly informing them that their data is accessed by individuals and entities in China.”

In both suits, monetary civil penalties against TikTok, along with injunctive relief are being sought.

TikTok has for years grappled with bipartisan concerns in Washington about the possibility that US user data could find its way to the Chinese government and be used to undermine US interests, thanks to a national security law in that country that compels companies located there to cooperate with data requests. And there has been renewed criticism of TikTok this year, stemming from a Buzzfeed News report in June that said some US user data has been repeatedly accessed from China. The reporting cited leaked audio recordings of dozens of internal TikTok meetings, including one where a TikTok employee allegedly said, “Everything is seen in China.”

In a response to the report, TikTok previously said it “has consistently maintained that our engineers in locations outside of the US, including China, can be granted access to US user data on an as-needed basis 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 spent months negotiating with TikTok on a proposal to resolve concerns that Chinese government authorities could seek to gain access to the data TikTok holds on US citizens.

A TikTok executive testified before a Senate panel earlier this year that it doesn’t share information with the Chinese government and that a US-based security team decides who can access US user data from China, but stopped short of committing to cut off flows of US user data to China.

The popular video-based app has also faced questions about the safety of young users after rocketing to popularity during the Covid-19 pandemic. Last year, TikTok’s Head of Public Policy Michael Beckerman joined executives from Snap and YouTube in a Senate hearing about children’s safety, during which he said TikTok is working to “keep its platform safe and create age appropriate experiences” but added “we do know trust must be earned.”

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

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