December 19th, 2022
Attorney General Sues TikTok for Misleading Business Practices
On December 7, 2022, Indiana’s Attorney General submitted a complaint against TikTok Inc. and its parent company, ByteDance Ltd., for violations of the state’s Deceptive Consumer Sales Act. The Attorney General’s allegations largely focus on the social media giant’s marketing the service as safe for use by minors. To wit, the first paragraph of the complaint provides:
- TikTok Inc. is 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. Tens of millions of minors use TikTok in the United States. In order to lure these children onto its platform, TikTok makes a variety of misleading representations and omissions to claim a 12+ rating on the Apple App Store and a “T” for “Teen” rating in the Google Play Store and the Microsoft Store. 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 complaint specifically takes issue with TikTok’s algorithm, which “promotes a variety of inappropriate content to 13-17 year-old users through the United States… [including] abundant content depicting alcohol, tobacco, and drugs; sexual content, nudity [and] intense profanity.”
Notably, the Attorney General pointed out that TikTok’s parent company operates a “parallel application” in China which contains many more safeguards for Chinese children under age 14, including daily limits on use to merely 40 minutes between 6am and 10 pm. Therefore, the complaint alleges that TikTok’s creators recognize that the company’s platform poses unacceptable risks to children in China, yet American children are suitable for “unlimited” use with minimal guardrails.
In concert with Indiana’s suit, U.S. senators introduced a bipartisan bill seeking effectively to ban TikTok and social media companies under the influence of “foreign countries of concern.” The ANTI-SOCIAL CCP ACT (“Averting the National Threat of Internet Surveillance, Oppressive Censorship and Influence, and Algorithmic Learning by the Chinese Communist Party”) explicitly identifies TikTok and ByteDance as subject to the bill’s prohibitions.