TikTok sued in US over China data access

The US state of Indiana has filed two lawsuits against the popular social media app, citing concerns over its influence on children and security worries related to China.

Indiana’s attorney general Todd Rokita has accused TikTok’s parent company, Beijing-based ByteDance, of violating the state’s consumer protection laws.

The first lawsuit claims the app targets young teens with adult content, while the second addresses China’s alleged ability to use TikTok’s data to spy on, blackmail, and coerce users into serving Beijing’s interests.

These filings by a US state are the first of their kind against the popular app, and they seek changes to TikTok’s practices, as well as civil penalties for each alleged violation.

“Once on the platform, many children are exposed to non-stop offerings of inappropriate content that TikTok’s algorithm force-feeds to them. The resulting harm to young people, and society writ large, has been devastating,” the first lawsuit claims, adding that “TikTok is a Chinese Trojan Horse unleashed on unsuspecting American consumers.”

The complaint also says the app's algorithm promotes a variety of inappropriate content, "depicting alcohol, tobacco, and drugs; sexual content, nudity, and suggestive themes; and intense profanity."

It also claims that TikTok deceives young users with age ratings of 12 and above on Apple and Google app stores.

“Wolf in sheep’s clothing”

The second document, which expresses worry about China’s ability to access sensitive consumer information, says that “TikTok is wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

It notes that TikTok tells consumers it has never given China’s government access to their data, but stresses that, actually, as a Chinese company subject to Chinese law, the firm must cooperate with China’s intelligence activities.

“Unlike every other major social media company, TikTok even fails to alert consumers when accounts affiliated with the Chinese government and Communist Party are pushing controversial and divisive content on the platform,” the lawsuit says.

The announcement of the lawsuits comes after other American states have drafted legislation to ban TikTok. Meanwhile Texas, South Dakota, and South Carolina have prohibited the use of the app on state government devices.

Last month, Federal Bureau of Investigation director Christopher Wray told US lawmakers Beijing could use TikTok to control user data and devices. According to Wray, China has already stolen more American data than every other nation combined.

Taiwan has this week also banned TikTok from public sector communications devices – mobile phones, tablets, and desktop computers – as it has been listed as a product that endangers national information and communication security.

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