TikTok is now facing its first state lawsuit over data security. Indiana’s Attorney General has sued TikTok for allegedly misleading users about China’s data access and violating child safety. The social media service supposedly broke state consumer law by failing to warn that the Chinese government could theoretically obtain sensitive data. The ByteDance-owned firm also supposedly tricked customers by giving its app a “12+” age rating on the App Store and Google Play, even though kids could readily find drug- and sex-related content.
Indiana wants fines of up to $5,000 for every violation. It’s also asking a state Superior Court to order an end to the purportedly deceptive claims about data handling, and to stop marketing the app toward young teens.
We’ve asked TikTok for comment. The social network has repeatedly denied sharing US user data with the Chinese government and has taken steps to reassure politicians and critics, such as storing American account data stateside by default. It also says there are “robust” approval processes and controls for ByteDance workers who might access data outside the US. TikTok has also limited teens’ access to more mature content, including age gates for some videos.
The lawsuit compounds problems that have emerged for TikTok in recent weeks. Maryland’s governor banned use of the app on state government devices over security concerns, echoing a similar move by South Dakota in late November. The Wall Street Journal sources also claim a potential national security deal with the Biden administration has stalled yet again. While TikTok had a tentative agreement this summer, some officials are concerned the deal didn’t go far enough to limit China’s access.
The lawsuit’s chances are uncertain. Potential access to data doesn’t mean TikTok is being lax, and it’s notable that apps like Facebook and Instagram are also rated 12+ despite the potential to see more adult-oriented material (Twitter is rated 17+). However, the Indiana case puts further pressure on TikTok to explain and potentially modify its practices.