The popular social video app TikTok was hit with two lawsuits this week by Indiana's top law enforcement official, who claims the company threatens' users' privacy, and also harms teens by promoting “inappropriate” content.
“TikTok says its platform is all about spreading joy. But the more TikTok videos consumers view, and the more content that they create and share, the more TikTok learns about them -- their interests, their locations, the types of phones they have, the apps on their phones, who their contacts are, their facial features, their voice prints, and even 'where your eyes are looking on your phone,'” the state attorney general's office writes in the privacy complaint.
“While TikTok vacuums up reams of this highly sensitive and personal information about Indiana consumers, it deceives and misleads them about the risks the app routinely poses to their data,” the complaint continues.
As with other TikTok critics, Indiana's attorney general argues that data about TikTok's users could end up in the hands of the Chinese government, because TikTok's parent company, ByteDance, is headquartered in Beijing.
The complaint also includes an allegation that TikTok engages in keystroke logging when people navigate to outside websites via the company's in-app browser.
That allegation, stemming from a report by researcher Felix Krause, is also at the center of a recent lawsuit against the company by a California resident.
The Indiana attorney general's second lawsuit alleges that TikTok understates the prevalence of “inappropriate” content, in order to market itself as appropriate for teens in app marketplaces operated by Apple, Google and Microsoft.
“The TikTok algorithm serves up abundant content depicting alcohol, tobacco, and drugs; sexual content, nudity, and suggestive themes; and intense profanity,” the complaint alleges.
A company spokesperson said TikTok doesn't comment on pending litigation, but added “the safety, privacy and security of our community is our top priority.”
The spokesperson stated: “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. We are also confident that we're on a path in our negotiations with the U.S. Government to fully satisfy all reasonable U.S. national security concerns, and we have already made significant strides toward implementing those solutions.”
The new cases come as state and federal officials appear to be increasingly hostile toward TikTok.
Governors of Texas, Maryland, Nebraska, South Carolina, South Dakota and North Dakota and have either banned state employees from using the app on government phones, or have proposed a ban.
In addition, Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr has argued the company should be banned from operating in the U.S., while Senators Mark Warner (D-Virginia) and Marco Rubio (R-Florida) have urged the Federal Trade Commission to investigate TikTok over reports that employees in China accessed data about U.S. users of the service.