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Indiana files pair of lawsuits against TikTok over data security, child safety

The lawsuits mark the first time an American state has sued the Chinese-owned social media company.

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (CN) — The Indiana attorney general filed two lawsuits against social media giant TikTok on Wednesday accusing the company of violating data security and child safety laws.

Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita claims the Chinese-owned video app exposes children to inappropriate content and harvests users' highly sensitive data and personal information while misleading them about the risks.

“The TikTok app is a malicious and menacing threat unleashed on unsuspecting Indiana consumers by a Chinese company that knows full well the harms it inflicts on users,” Rokita said in a statement. “With this pair of lawsuits, we hope to force TikTok to stop its false, deceptive and misleading practices, which violate Indiana law.”

The claims are bifurcated into two complaints filed in Allen County Superior Court, with one suit dealing with the alleged child safety violations and the other focusing on the claims of deceptive data practices.

The lawsuits also list TikTok’s parent company ByteDance as a defendant and seek to levy fines of up to $5,000 per violation in addition to a court order prohibiting TikTok from making continued misrepresentations about the security of its users' data.

While Indiana is the first U.S. state to sue TikTok directly, the pair of lawsuits were announced just one day after Maryland banned the use of the short-form video app within the state’s executive branch of government. The Maryland ban came a week after South Dakota enacted a similar restriction.

Both the Maryland and South Dakota bans cited the Chinese government's influence over the app as reason for concern, a sentiment that was echoed in both of Indiana’s lawsuits.

“TikTok knowingly misled and deceived Indiana consumers, and continues to do so, because any reasonably prudent person with TikTok’s knowledge would know that the influence and control ByteDance has over TikTok, and ByteDance’s influence by and cooperation with the Chinese Government and Communist Party, means that if the Chinese Government or Chinese Communist Party want access to TikTok’s U.S. user data, which includes Indiana consumers’ data, they can get it,” one of the complaints states.

In a court-submitted affidavit, attorney Megan Wold of the law firm Cooper & Kirk claims she was able to view explicit videos on TikTok even when using the application's restricted mode. She claims she was able to see videos that contained pole dancing, bondage imagery and discussions of sexual kinks all while using the in-app filter meant to block inappropriate content.

According to TikTok’s website, restricted mode is an account setting that “limits the appearance of content that may not be appropriate for all audiences.”

However, both the affidavit and one of the lawsuits claim that explicit images and material is made available to minors regardless of the setting.

“In fact, Restricted Mode restricts virtually no content available on TikTok and makes offensive and inappropriate content widely available to users with Restricted Mode enabled, including in search results in and in the algorithmically-driven For You page,” the complaint states.

Rokita's lawsuits put more pressure on the social media company, which, according to The New York Times, is in negotiations with the Biden administration to hammer out a deal addressing national security concerns.

“While we don't comment on pending litigation, the safety, privacy and security of our community is our top priority. 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,” said a TikTok spokesperson.

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