States label TikTok 'a malicious and menacing threat'

Texas bucks app off government devices as Indiana takes social media biz to court

Two more US states have launched aggressive action against made-in-China social media app TikTok.

Texas on Wednesday banned the app from government devices, with governor Greg Abbott ordering [PDF] the ban "to protect sensitive information and critical infrastructure from TikTok."

"TikTok harvests vast amounts of data from its users' devices – including when, where, and how they conduct internet activity – and offers this trove of potentially sensitive information to the Chinese government," Abbott wrote.

Which is tame compared to the actions and language used by Indiana's attorney-general, who has decided to sue the Chinese social media platform – twice!

"The TikTok app is a malicious and menacing threat unleashed on unsuspecting Indiana consumers by a Chinese company that knows full well the harms it inflicts on users," said AG Todd Rokita in a statement. "With this pair of lawsuits, we hope to force TikTok to stop its false, deceptive and misleading practices, which violate Indiana law."

"At the very least, the company owes consumers the truth about the age-appropriateness of its content and the insecurity of the data it collects on users," added Rotika.

One of the lawsuits alleges TikTok lured children into a digital world of sex, drugs, profanity and other shocking content – all while claiming such material is "infrequent" and "mild."

The second claims that TikTok provides sensitive and personal data to Beijing and the Communist Party – a claim bolstered by FBI director Christopher Wray earlier this week.

"The Chinese Government and Communist Party have a demonstrated interest in the kind of data that TikTok collects on its users, which they can use to spy on, blackmail, and coerce those users, or to further develop China's artificial intelligence capabilities, or for any number of other purposes that serve China's national security and economic interests, at the expense of Indiana consumers," asserts [PDF] the Indiana AG's office in the lawsuit. Filings refer to TikTok as a "wolf in sheep's clothing" and claims acts were done with the intent to defraud or mislead.

The claim that TikTok is harmful to children is not new. In March 2022 a bipartisan coalition of attorneys from eight states announced an investigation into whether the TikTok algorithm sends youth into a harmful and addictive rabbit hole.

The first of Indiana's lawsuits doesn't hold back in its filings – opening by referring [PDF] to TikTok as "a Chinese Trojan Horse" that promotes inappropriate content, regardless of age, to registered users claiming to be 13 and older. The complaint also alleges that such content does indeed influence teen behavior and cites increased vandalism in schools associated with TikTok hashtags and challenges as proof.

“As a result of TikTok’s predatory design, the platform brought in more than $4 billion in revenue in 2021,” reads the lawsuit.

TikTok's Chinese analog, Douyin, contains many more safeguards – including required youth modes, real name authentications, bans on minors viewing live broadcasts, prevention of salacious material and restrictions on how long and when minors can access the app. Chinese users under the age of 14 are limited to 40 minutes of daily use, between 0600 and 2200. Users in the US have no limit and spend an average of 99 minutes per day on TikTok, according to the office of the AG.

"In short, TikTok poses known risks to young teens that TikTok's parent company itself finds inappropriate for Chinese users who are the same age," argues the complaint.

The State of Indiana is seeking to stop TikTok from making "false statements" about the frequency and severity of questionable content. It's also seeking civil penalties and a jury trial.

This week, Taiwan imposed a public sector ban on TikTok and other CCP-affiliated software, citing national security.

The US states of South Dakota, South Carolina, Nebraska, and Maryland have all sought or imposed similar bans on TikTok, as have The US Military, Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

The Register has asked TikTok and parent company ByteDance for comment on Indiana's actions, and will update if we receive a substantive response.

A TikTok statement making the media rounds states ByteDance believes "the safety, privacy and security of [TikTok's] community" its "top priority."

"We build youth well-being into our policies, limit features by age, empower parents with tools and resources, and continue to invest in new ways to enjoy content based on age-appropriateness or family comfort," read the statement. "We are also confident that we're on a path in our negotiations with the US government to fully satisfy all reasonable US national security concerns, and we have already made significant strides toward implementing those solutions." ®

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