On December 7,  2022, Indiana’s attorney general filed suit against the popular app, TikTok.

[1]In one complaint, the State alleges that the company misleads and deceives users about the use of their data.[2] In the second complaint, the State alleges that the app’s algorithm exposes children to inappropriate content, such as sexual, drug, or alcohol related videos.[3] TikTok, a popular and growing social media app, launched in 2018 and had nearly a billion users by September 2021.[4] Users can find themselves in different communities on the app, from cooking, to beauty, and even comedy. Besides the creativity and entertainment present on the app, it is argued that the app is unsafe due to the lack of data regulation and protection.[5] The app accrued more than $4 billion in 2021.[6] Though TikTok has previously denied that it sends American data to the Chinese government,[7] scrutiny still exists around the app.

The second complaint noted that even though the app is rated 12 years and older in Apple and Google’s app stores, the app contains age-inappropriate content, such as drug and alcohol use or sexual content that children are easily able to find on the app.[8] The app has been criticized by Indiana’s attorney general as a “Trojan Horse” that lures minors into the belief that the app is safe, but then are faced with sexual content and substance use.[9]Indiana is seeking an injunction against Tik Tok’s practices and penalties against the company.[10] Viral trends on TikTok capture the attention of children and sometimes encourage them to engage in dangerous behavior.[11] Some schools in Indiana have taken steps to warn parents about the harmful influence these trends have on children. In Southwest Allen County Schools in Indiana, the superintendent sent home a letter to parents explaining how students were partaking in a trend on the app that involved vandalizing school property.[12] In 2021, schools in Central Indiana notified parents about a viral trend circulating on TikTok called “National Shoot Up Your School Day,” in which students were encouraged to make threats of violence against their schools.[13]

This is not the first time the company has been sued for their deceitful practices. The app’s predecessor, Musical.ly, paid $5.7 billion to settle allegations from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2019 for failing to safeguard the data of users under age 13.[14] The FTC stated “it was the biggest civil penalty it has obtained under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.“[15] The security concerns held by U.S. states are shared with those in the United Kingdom. In 2022, the app faced a $29 million fine in the U.K. after it was found that the company violated child data protection laws.[16] It was claimed that the company may have “processed data of children under the age of 13 without parental consent.”[17] The European Commission is also investigating the use of targeted ads against minors.[18]

The question remains whether parents should allow their children to browse on TikTok in the first place. Some experts suggest the harmful effects outweigh the fun and entertainment on the app.[19] Besides the harmful influence that comes from partaking in viral trends on the app, there are health concerns as well from absorbing the content. Alam Blockty, a clinical psychologist, states that the app disrupts children’s sleep.[20] It is also associated with increased anxiety and depression.[21] Suicide and self-harm content is easily accessible on the app, which can push those suffering with mental health issues further into their illnesses.[22] Blockty notes that though the app needs to regulate its content, it is also the responsibility of parents to be cognizant of the content their children are viewing.[23] Overall, he warns parents that the app is toxic and dangerous for children to be on.[24]

It may be a matter of time before other states follow Indiana’s lead. Nebraska’s attorney general co-leads a bipartisan coalition of attorney generals from different states and are deciding “whether TikTok’s marketing to young users contributes to physical and mental health harms, in violation of state consumer protection laws.”[25] In March 2022, attorney generals from 44 states and territories co-signed a letter sent to TikTok expressing their concerns about child safety and parental controls on the app.[26] They cited dangers such as drug abuse, sexual content, and cyberbullying.[27]

It is unclear if Tik Tok will take immediate action to protect young users on the app. The app does not seem to be slowing down anytime soon. The scrutinized content still exists and there are plenty of minor users, as more than a third of the 49 million users on the app were reported to be 14 years or younger in 2020.[28]  It may be a combination of action from the app and oversight by parents in order to prevent children from being exposed to harmful content on the app. Though the app started off as a fun and entertaining platform, it has evolved to bringing in legal action from around the world.

[1]Cecilia Kang, Indiana Sues TikTok for Security and Child Safety Violations, N.Y. Times, (Dec. 7, 2022), https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/07/technology/tiktok-lawsuit.html [https://perma.cc/2ZZY-RNWV].

[2] Brief for Petitioner, State of Indiana v. TikTok Inc., Bytedance Inc., (2022) , (No. 02D03-2212-PL-000401).

[3] Kang, supra note 1.

[4] Deborah D’Souza, TikTok: What It Is, How It Works, and Why It’s Popular, Investopedia, (July 5, 2022), https://www.investopedia.com/what-is-tiktok-4588933 [https://perma.cc/ZP7K-G9F2].

[5] Sara Merken, Musical.ly, FTC Settle Children’s Privacy Claims for $5.7M, Bloomberg Law, (Feb. 27, 2019, 12:19 PM), https://news.bloomberglaw.com/privacy-and-data-security/musical-ly-ftc-settle-childrens-privacy-claims-for-5-7m-1 [https://perma.cc/8ZXM-EC46].

[6] Brief for Petitioner at 2, State of Indiana v. TikTok Inc., Bytedance Inc. , (2022), (No. 02D02-2212-PL-000400).

[7] Kang, supra note 1.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Monica Miller, TikTok Sued by Indiana Over Security and Safety Concerns, BBC, (Dec. 8, 2022), https://www.bbc.com/news/business-63897751 [https://perma.cc/828H-ZDLS].

[11] Katie Cox, Central Indiana School Districts, Parents Respond to Viral 'TikTok challenge' Encouraging Threats of Violence Toward Schools on Friday, WRTV, (Dec. 16, 2021, 7:17 PM), https://www.wrtv.com/news/local-news/central-indiana-school-districts-respond-to-viral-tiktok-challenge-encouraging-threats-of-violence-toward-schools-on-friday [https://perma.cc/R74Y-RNVG].

[12] Brief for the Petitioner at 2, State of Indiana v. TikTok Inc., Bytedance Inc. (2022) (No. 02D02-2212-PL-000400)., supranote 6, at 2.

[13] Cox, supra note 110.

[14] Merken, supra note 5.

[15] Id.

[16] Paul Sawers, TikTok faces $29M fine in UK for ‘Failing to Protect Children’s Privacy’, TechCrunch, (Sep. 26, 2022, 8:52 AM), https://techcrunch.com/2022/09/26/tiktok-faces-29m-fine-in-uk-for-failing-to-protect-childrens-privacy/ [https://perma.cc/JM9-ZEEN].

[17] Id.

[18] Kang, supra note 1.

[19] Alan Blockty, What’s TikTok Doing to our Kids? Concerns from a Clinical Psychologist, Daily News, (Nov. 18, 2021, 5:00 AM), https://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/ny-oped-whats-tiktok-doing-to-our-kids-20211118-32kx365w2ja6rhnoe2aoorkbpi-story.html [https://perma.cc/8BWA-HGPS].

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] Alan Blockty, What’s TikTok doing to our Kids? Concerns from a Clinical Psychologist, Daily News, (Nov. 18, 2021, 5:00 AM), https://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/ny-oped-whats-tiktok-doing-to-our-kids-20211118-32kx365w2ja6rhnoe2aoorkbpi-story.html [https://perma.cc/8BWA-HGPS].

[25] Laura Chapman, Indiana Files Two Lawsuits Against TikTok, Becoming First State to do so, wfyi Indianapolis, (Dec. 7, 2022), https://www.wfyi.org/news/articles/indiana-files-two-lawsuits-against-tiktok-becoming-first-state-to-do-so [https://perma.cc/84MC-W7UT].

[26] Letter from the National Association of Attorneys General to TikTok Inc., Nat’l Ass’n of Att’ys Gen., (Mar. 28, 2022), https://aboutblaw.com/5Zx [https://perma.cc/M3ZA-AWGT].

[27] Id. at 1.

[28] Raymond Zhong & Sheera Frenkel, A Third of TikTok’s U.S. Users May Be 14 or Under, Raising Safety Questions, N.Y. Times, (Sep. 17, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/14/technology/tiktok-underage-users-ftc.html [https://perma.cc/FXB6-9SE5].

Friday, January 27, 2023