Utah accuses TikTok of misleading users about safety, China connection in new lawsuit

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Utah Gov. Getty Images

Utah is the latest state to file suit against TikTok, alleging the social media site misled its citizens about its relationship to its Chinese parent company and deceptively touted its platform as safe.

TikTok has already faced similar lawsuits from Arkansas and Indiana, while Montana has chosen to ban the app altogether, a move that TikTok and creators have challenged. This action by states against TikTok contrasts with the stagnation of Washington where legislation to ban the app, which was initially supported by both parties, has now stalled. It underscores how states have taken the lead on many tech policy issues given the difficulty of moving legislation through Congress.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox cited research on social media and its effect on teens, including a U.S. Surgeon General report, in announcing the lawsuit Tuesday.

“Social media companies must be held responsible for the harms they are causing,” Cox said in a statement.

In the complaint, filed in state court, Attorney General Sean Reyes alleges TikTok violated Utah’s consumer protection laws in three ways:

By deploying and marketing “an addictive product with design features intended to manipulate children. By misleading consumers about the safety of the application and claiming that it can “effectively maintain a secure digital environment for kids”. “

  • By misleading consumers about the degree of its relationship with China-based parent company ByteDance.
  • TikTok did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on the suit.
  • TikTok’s ownership by a China-based company has been at the crux of many government officials’ concerns about the company. The suit also touches on other concerns people have with social media platforms, including TikTok. The lawsuit focuses on TikTok features like the vertical swipe that users use to load videos. It compares it to a slot-machine that makes them want to keep coming back to get a dopamine high. Cox, the governor of Utah, signed two laws earlier this year that would introduce new and sweeping restrictions to protect children online. For example, they would restrict the hours minors are able to access social media platforms, require age verification to maintain an account and give parents a way to access their kids’ accounts, including private messages.

Privacy and LGBTQ+ rights advocates have warned that such restrictions could backfire by requiring more invasive practices to verify the age of all users. Additionally, giving parents broad access to kids’ accounts could put children in abusive homes in harm’s way, opponents of the legislation have argued.

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