January 28, 2023

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TikTok is on trial in the US

Joe Biden.  His administration is seeking to strike a deal with TikTok
Joe Biden. His administration is seeking to strike a deal with TikTok

Tik Tok. Which is? the judge. The US state of Indiana has filed a lawsuit against the popular Chinese social media app. Attorney General Todd Rocetta has accused TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, of violating state consumer protection laws.

The state says the platform fails to protect youth and privacy. For its part, TikTok said it considers youth welfare in its policies and is confident it can address US national security concerns.

Indiana filed two lawsuits. Initially, Rokita claims that the app, founded by Zhang Yiming in 2016, exposes young users to inappropriate content. On the other hand, the attorney general accuses TikTok of not disclosing the Chinese government’s ability to access sensitive consumer information. “Tik Tok is a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” the documents handed to the court say. “As long as TikTok is allowed to deceive and mislead Indiana consumers about the risks to their data, those consumers and their privacy are easy prey.”

According to the complaint, the app’s algorithm promotes “a variety of inappropriate content depicting alcohol, tobacco, drugs, sexual content, nudity, suggestive themes, and vulgar language.” It will also mislead “young users 12 years of age or older on the Apple and Google app stores.”

The state of Indiana is seeking an injunction against the practices and civil penalties against the company for its “unfair and deceptive conduct.” Rokita said the lawsuits are the first filed by a US state against ByteDance.

A TikTok spokesperson responded to the BBC stressing that “the safety, privacy and protection of our community is our top priority. The app has age restrictions and parental control features, and the company is investing in additional content controls.”

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The announcement of the lawsuits comes after other US states drafted legislation to ban TikTok. Texas, South Dakota and South Carolina have banned the use of social media on government agencies. The FBI also revealed last month that TikTok is a national security concern.

The government agency’s director, Chris Wray, told the US House Committee on Homeland Security that Chinese law essentially requires companies to “do whatever the government wants to do in terms of sharing information or serving as a tool of executive power.”

Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden’s administration is in talks with TikTok officials to try to reach a national security agreement to protect the data of hundreds of millions of users in the United States.

Meanwhile, TikTok is also facing legal challenges outside the United States.

In the UK, in particular, the social media company could face a €27m fine for failing to protect the privacy of children who use the platform. Which, for TikTok, could set a disturbing precedent.