TikTok Sued By Utah Over Harmful Impact On Children Claim

US state of Utah sues TikTok, alleges it harms children by encouraging them to spend unhealthy amount of time on platform

More legal troubles for popular video sharing app TikTok, after a US state began legal action against the Chinese owned platform.

In its complaint filed on Tuesday, Utah Governor Spencer J. Cox and Attorney General Sean D. Reyes said that “after extensive investigation, the state alleges the social media giant illegally baits children into addictive and unhealthy use, blatantly misrepresents the app’s safety, and deceptively portrays itself as independent of its China-based parent company ByteDance.”

The complaint was filed in Utah’s state court, and the Utah Department of Commerce’s Division of Consumer Protection alleges that TikTok surreptitiously designed and deployed addictive features to hook young users into endlessly scrolling through the company’s app.

ByteDance, TikTok
TikTok owner ByteDance. Image credit: ByteDance

Utah lawsuit

The complaint also alleges that in order to make more money, TikTok wants Utah consumers to spend as much time on its app as possible so it can place advertisements in front of them more often.

Furthermore, the lawsuit alleges that the company misled young users and their parents about the app’s dangers.

“We will no longer tolerate TikTok misleading parents that its app is safe for children,” said Gov. Cox. “Social media companies must be held responsible for the harms they are causing. The experts – from the US Surgeon General and behavioural science researchers to parents and teens – all agree that social media is affecting our children’s mental health and it’s time to intervene.”

“My top priority is protecting our children in Utah,” Attorney General Reyes added. “I’m tired of TikTok lying to Utah parents. I’m tired of our kids losing their innocence and even their lives addicted to the dark side of social media.”

“TikTok will only change if put at legal risk – and ‘at risk’ is where they have left our youth in exchange for profit and greed,” said Attorney General Reyes. “Immediate and pervasive threats require swift and bold responses. We have a compelling case against TikTok. Our kids are worth the fight.”

The suit is being brought under the Utah Consumer Sales Practices Act, and it allegedly details the impact of TikTok’s conduct on Utah’s citizens, alleging that prolonged TikTok use interferes with Utah children’s mental health and well-being.

In addition to the child addiction issue, the suit alleges that TikTok misled users about how the social media company is entangled with and controlled by its China-based parent company, ByteDance.

This Utah complaint alleges the three following charges:

  1. TikTok deployed, continually refined, and marketed an addictive product with design features intended to manipulate children, all while knowing that the product caused harm to these young users.
  2. TikTok misled young users and their parents by representing that its app was safe when it knew it was not.
  3. TikTok misled Utah consumers about the degree to which TikTok remains enmeshed with and under the control of ByteDance, its China-based parent company.

TikTok response

It is worth remembering that TikTok has more than 150 million users in the United States.

In its response to the Utah lawsuit, owner ByteDance told Reuters that TikTok “has industry-leading safeguards for young people, including an automatic 60-minute time limit for users under 18 and parental controls for teen accounts.”

TikTok is also being sued over similar allegations by the US states of Arkansas and Indiana.

Indiana’s lawsuit against TikTok, filed last December, is pending in state court.

Arkansas also sued both TikTok and Facebook-parent Meta in March “for pushing addictive platforms.”

Meanwhile the US state of Montana has chosen to ban the app altogether, a move that TikTok itself and local creators have challenged.

On Thursday, a judge will hear arguments in TikTok’s lawsuit seeking to block Montana’s first-of-its kind state ban on the use of TikTok before it takes effect 1 January.

The US state action against TikTok comes after the US federal ban on TikTok on all government devices and systems.

However attempts in the US Congress to introduce a blanket nationwide ban on TikTok across the United States is still under consideration.

Outside US

TikTok is also facing difficulties outside of the United States.

Last month the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) levelled the largest fine to date for the TikTok, after it ruled that TikTok had breached GDPR child privacy laws between 31 July 2020 and 31 December 2020.

It fined the firm 345 million euros (£297 million).

That was not the first financial penalty for TikTok this year.

In April the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) fined TikTok £12.7 million for failing to protect the privacy of children aged under 13.

The UK and Irish fines come amid wider scrutiny of the platform’s data controls, and also allegations that the Chinese-owned social media app did not do enough to check who was using the platform and remove underage accounts.