February 2, 2023

Money News PH

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Indiana is suing TikTok for security and child safety violations

Indiana’s attorney general on Wednesday sued Chinese app TikTok for misleading users about China’s access to their data and exposing children to adult content in the first state lawsuits against the popular video service.

Todd Rokita, Attorney General, alleged that TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, violated state consumer protection laws by failing to disclose the Chinese government’s ability to harvest sensitive consumer information. His office said in a separate complaint that TikTok deceived young users and their parents with the 12-plus age rating on Apple and Google’s app stores, even though inappropriate sexual and substance-related content is easy to find and is pushed by the company for children who use the app.

US officials have been fighting for more than two years to ban the hugely popular app or force it to change its ownership structure to reduce its ties to China. The app was included in the Biden administration’s efforts to strengthen US technology supply chains and slow China’s rise as a global technology innovator and exporter.

Indiana is seeking penalties of up to $5,000 per violation and has asked a state Supreme Court to ask TikTok to stop making false and misleading claims about its data handling and to stop marketing itself as an app suitable for young teens.

“TikTok is a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” the attorney general’s office said.

TikTok declined to comment on the Indiana lawsuits, but its spokeswoman, Brooke Oberwetter, said that “the safety, privacy and security of our community is our top priority.”

“We’re building the well-being of youth into our policies, capping features by age, giving parents tools and resources, and continuing to invest in new ways to enjoy content based on age appropriateness or family comfort,” she added.

The Biden administration has been locked in negotiations with TikTok for months over national security concerns related to the app’s data collection and potential data transfers to China. Both Republicans and Democrats have called for the app to be banned. Several states have launched investigations into TikTok for privacy and national security violations, while the Transportation Security Administration, military arms, and three states have banned the app’s use on official devices. On Wednesday, the Texas Attorney General ordered state agencies to ban the use of TikTok on all government-issued devices.

In September, UK regulators warned TikTok that it could face fines of up to $29 million for violating new child privacy laws. The European Commission has also launched an investigation into TikTok for allegedly sending EU citizens’ data to the Chinese government and targeting ads to minors.

TikTok has pointed to its Los Angeles and Singapore offices as evidence of its independence, saying the Chinese government has never attempted to access US users’ data. The company spent more than $4.2 million in the first three quarters of the year lobbying lawmakers and the White House to ward off mounting scrutiny.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew has also been on a charm offensive to calm critics. He has said US users’ data is hosted on servers controlled by American cloud computing firm Oracle and denied that the Chinese government could access that data.

Indiana’s Attorney General said those assurances were not credible because Chinese law gives the government the power to request data from a US subsidiary. TikTok has promised to eventually wipe all US users’ “protected” data from TikTok systems, but the lawsuit said it’s not clear what qualifies as “protected” data.

By not disclosing the risks of China’s access, the company is misleading consumers, the lawsuit said. In Europe, TikTok announces that people outside of Europe, including people in China, can access user data. Suspicions remain regarding TikTok’s history of sharing data and technical resources with ByteDance, the attorney general said.

“TikTok knowingly deceived and deceived consumers in Indiana and continues to do so,” the complaint said. “If the Chinese government or the Chinese Communist Party want access to TikTok’s US user data, they can get it.”

The second complaint described TikTok, popular with teens, as a “Trojan horse” that lures teens by marketing it as a safe application for those aged 12 and over, but then exposes them to inappropriate sexual and alcohol- and drug-related content. TikTok’s policy statement that there is “rare” or “mild” adult content in the app belies the wealth of disturbing content easily accessible to young users, the lawsuit states.

Referring to the US government investigation, Ms. Oberwetter, spokeswoman for TikTok, said: “We are confident that we are on our way to fully addressing all reasonable US national security concerns and have already made significant progress in implementing those resolutions.” did.”

TikTok launched a feature that allows parents to link their account to their kids’, giving them control over what their teens see on the app and how much time they spend on it. But even in “restricted” mode, a feature designed to block certain adult content, sexually explicit content can still reach young users, the complaint says. Many attorneys general are expected to write letters to Apple and Google to demand that their app stores raise the age recommendation for TikTok users to at least 17, a person with knowledge of the effort said.

“TikTok is Joe Camel on steroids,” the complaint reads.