Following the introduction of bipartisan federal legislation that would ban TikTok in the U.S., 15 state attorneys general are demanding that Apple and Google “correct their application store age ratings of TikTok” before 2022’s conclusion.
The 15 attorneys general – from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Virginia – just recently called on Google and Apple to update TikTok’s Play Store and App Store ratings, respectively.
As it stands, the highly controversial video-sharing app, which has long been accused of being unsafe for children, has a “Teen” rating on the Play Store and a 12+ rating on the App Store. Per the latter classification, TikTok features “infrequent/mild” sexual content, violent media, and drug/alcohol use and references.
But according to letters that Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen sent (with supporting signatures from the other mentioned AGs) to Apple head Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, TikTok’s younger users are in reality exposed to “frequent and intense alcohol, tobacco, and drug use or references, sexual content, profanity, and mature/suggestive themes.”
Moreover, the letters claim that TikTok users can see these and other posts even while browsing in “Restricted Mode” – a point that the State of Indiana emphasized in a pair of recently filed complaints against the platform as well as ByteDance.
(The legal actions specifically identify multiple violations of consumer-protection laws stemming from an alleged disconnect between TikTok’s App Store and Play Store ratings and the content that non-adult users actually see when utilizing the service.)
“Some of us are already pursuing or considering legal action against TikTok due to its failure to correct the age-rating misrepresentations made about its app in the Google Play Store,” the letter to Pichai reads in part, “but we believe that Google also bears responsibility for the age rating misrepresentations displayed on TikTok’s Google Play page.”
Per the same document, TikTok “can only plausibly qualify for an ‘M’ for ‘Mature’ rating from Google Play,” and the alleged “deception” resulting from the current Teen rating “has real consequences for kids and parents.”
“The undersigned State Attorneys General urge you to take immediate action to correct TikTok’s Google Play age rating from ‘T’ for ‘Teen’ to ‘M’ for ‘Mature,’ and to correct the age rating content descriptors that accompany it,” the letter concludes. “Absent such action, we reserve the right to take legal action against Google for the ongoing Google Play misrepresentations about TikTok, up to and including litigation and civil penalties.”
Meanwhile, the substantially similar letter to Cook urges the App Store to raise its own TikTok age rating to 17+ and to update the associated descriptors. At the time of this writing, neither Google nor Apple appeared to have addressed the demands publicly.
But it’ll be worth following the bipartisan criticism of and efforts to crack down on TikTok moving forward, particularly given the app’s far-reaching role in the music industry and the presence of competitors including YouTube Shorts, Triller, and Instagram Reels.