The State of Indiana is officially suing controversial short-form video-sharing app TikTok, claiming, among other things, that the ByteDance-owned service has deceived consumers with “false representations” and “poses known risks to young teens.”
Indiana just recently submitted the 55-page-long complaint against TikTok, which Nebraska, South Dakota, Maryland, and Texas have barred state employees from using due to security concerns. (Bans are pending in multiple other states.) The long-overdue scrutiny of and regulatory action against TikTok arrives after FCC criticism of the platform’s user-privacy policies as well as shocking reports of the personal data that the app collects.
Additionally, numerous watchdogs and governments have investigated the app’s impact on children and teens. And different critics have claimed that TikTok is simply a tool through which the Chinese Communist Party spies on users, molds social trends to its benefit, and creates propaganda.
Now, years of talk about the pernicious effects of TikTok may have finally made way for concrete progress, as the State of Indiana is suing the platform, as initially mentioned.
Filed against the social media service as well as its ByteDance parent, the firmly worded action begins by describing TikTok as “a Chinese Trojan Horse unleashed on unsuspecting American consumers who have been misled by the company’s false representations about the content on its platform.”
These false representations, the relatively straightforward suit proceeds, center on alleged disconnects between the type and extent of inappropriate content identified in ratings on the App Store as well as the Play Store and the content that children and teens can actually see on TikTok.
With a 12+ rating on the App Store, for instance, TikTok is said to feature “infrequent/mild” sexual content, drug and alcohol references, and violence, per the corresponding profile. But in practice – and despite TikTok’s allegedly opting against selecting a 17+ rating for “business reasons” – the detail-oriented suit claims that the service “contains frequent and intense sexual content and strong language.”
Meanwhile, notwithstanding some basic restrictions on explicit searches, users can easily find the app’s “abundant” inappropriate content by slightly modifying terms’ spelling, per the text. “Not only is content of this nature available to young users on TikTok, but TikTok actually recommends searches that return sexual and suggestive content to users through its Autocomplete feature,” the plaintiff wrote.
Similarly, the far-reaching TikTok lawsuit – large portions of which have been redacted from the public copy – likewise takes aim at Restricted Mode and its alleged failure to block under-18 users from seeing adult content.
“Even for those users who do have Restricted Mode enabled, however, the setting restricts little content from being visible to young users,” the State of Indiana indicated. “In fact, unless otherwise stated specifically, all of the videos described in this complaint were obtained by using a TikTok app registered to a 13-year-old user with Restricted Mode enabled.”
“Indiana law has protected consumers, including teen consumers, from unfair and deceptive conduct since before TikTok Inc. existed,” the suit drives home. “Instead of abiding by that law, TikTok has flouted Indiana’s consumer protections by misleading and deceiving parents about the safety and appropriateness of its application for young users.”
The State of Indiana is specifically alleging that the above-outlined grievances (and similar complaints) constitute multiple violations of its Deceptive Consumer Sales Act, and the plaintiff has requested that the court enjoin TikTok “from continuing to treat Indiana consumers unfairly and deceptively in the ways described.”