TikTok is being sued by the US state of Indiana, alleging deception of its users about China’s access to their data.
The short-form video app, which has more than one billion users worldwide, also exposes children to inappropriate content relating to sex and drugs, say lawsuits filed by the office of attorney general Todd Tokita.
Mr Tokita, a Republican, described TikTok as a “malicious and menacing threat unleashed on unsuspecting Indiana consumers by a Chinese company that knows full well the harms it inflicts on users”.
TikTok is owned by ByteDance, which is based in Beijing.
A spokesperson for the social media platform did not offer comment on the lawsuits, but the firm has been on the defensive this week as long-held concerns among several US states came to a head.
Texas governor Greg Abbott has ordered all state agencies to ban TikTok on government-issued devices, claiming the Chinese government posed a “serious threat” through the app.
“TikTok harvests vast amounts of data from its users’ devices – including when, where, and how they conduct internet activity – and offers this trove of potentially sensitive information to the Chinese government,” he said.
His counterparts in Maryland, South Dakota, and South Carolina have all made the same move.
TikTok vows to ‘fully satisfy’ US concerns
A spokesperson for TikTok said the bans are “largely fuelled by misinformation about our company”.
They said the company took user safety seriously, with the age requirement to make an account standing at 13, which was recently increased to 18 for those wishing to broadcast live.
“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,” they said.
“We’re also confident that we’re on a path in our negotiations with the US government to fully satisfy all reasonable US national security concerns, and we’ve already made significant strides toward implementing those solutions.”
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Could TikTok be banned?
TikTok has repeatedly found itself in the crosshairs of US politicians since former president Donald Trump tried to enforce an outright ban on downloads of the app.
While Joe Biden withdrew his predecessor’s order, he demanded a government review of foreign-owned apps, which remains ongoing more than a year later.
Last month, FBI director Chris Wray said TikTok’s US operations raised national security concerns.
He warned the Chinese government could harness the app to influence users or control their devices.
Analysts believe there is a reasonable chance that TikTok is banned in the US next year, CNBC reports.
Paul Gallant, policy analyst at Cowen, said: “We continue to believe TikTok will survive in the US.
“But we think it’s now a very close call, and we maintain our 40% chance of a ban in 2023.”
While there has been comparatively little discourse in the UK about banning TikTok, the app is under ever-increasing scrutiny as its popularity booms.
In August, parliament closed its official account over fears data could be passed to the Chinese government.
The following month, the Information Commissioner’s Office warned TikTok it could face a £27m fine for a possible breach of data protection law by failing to protect children’s privacy.
And earlier this week, ministers were warned that human traffickers were using TikTok to advertise dangerous Channel crossings, as the government seeks to crack down on the practice.