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Indiana sues TikTok, claiming it violates child safety laws

FCC commissioner on TikTok's security threat
FCC commissioner discusses TikTok's security threat to U.S. 05:46

Indiana's attorney general is suing TikTok, claiming the social app collects "reams" of sensitive data on consumers and serves up inappropriate videos to children.

Attorney General Todd Rokita filed a pair of lawsuits on Wednesday in state court against TikTok and its owner, Chinese company Bytedance. They are the first state suits against the company, which makes the most popular social-media app in use today.

"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.

In the first suit, Rokita said TikTok sends sexualized or other adult content to young users despite claiming it's appropriate for teens. The algorithm "serves up abundant content depicting alcohol, tobacco and drugs; sexual content, nudity and suggestive themes; and intense profanity. TikTok promotes this content regardless of a user's age, which means that it is available
to users registered with ages as young as 13," the suit claims. 

Rokita also alleges that TikTok encourages kids to commit vandalism, as with the "devious licks" challenge that last year saw a wave of students defacing or stealing school property.

The complaint contrasts TikTok's U.S. app with its Chinese counterpart, Douyin, which requires users to verify their real names and use the app for 40 minutes or less if they're under 14.

"An essential part of TikTok's business model is presenting the application as safe and appropriate for children ages 13 to 17," the AG's office said. If TikTok were honest about how much drug, alcohol and sexual content appears on the platform, it wouldn't qualify for a "teen" rating in app stores, and far fewer young people would use it, the suit contends.

"Deceives and misleads"

The second lawsuit alleges that TikTok lies to consumers about how much sensitive data the app collects, a violation of consumer-protection laws.

"While TikTok vacuums up reams of this highly sensitive and personal information about Indiana consumers, it deceives and misleads them about the risks the app routinely poses to their data," the suit states. It also notes that ByteDance is "a Chinese company subject to Chinese law, including laws that mandate secret cooperation with China's intelligence activities."

"TikTok is a wolf in sheep's clothing," the suit claims.

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ByteDance did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The company has previously said that it has never shared data on U.S. users with the Chinese government and that all domestic traffic is routed through Oracle cloud servers in the U.S. TikTok's CEO has also told lawmakers that the app collects less user information than its competitors.

The litigation targeting TikTok comes as a number of states crack down on the app. Maryland, South Carolina and South Dakota have banned TikTok from government phones after a Federal Communications Commission member urged its deletion from app stores. Earlier this year, eight states also launched an investigation into TikTok's effect on teens.

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