February 23, 2024

TikTok Accused of Misleading Parents About Child Protections

The state of Iowa has filed a lawsuit against TikTok, alleging that the ByteDance-owned company has misled parents about their children’s access to inappropriate content.

In the lawsuit, Iowa’s Attorney General Brenna Bird accuses both TikTok and ByteDance of lying to parents about the prevalence of content such as nudity, profanity, drugs, and alcohol on the platform.

This isn’t the first time that the US state has taken measures against the Chinese social media platform.

In October 2022, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds banned TikTok on state devices over security concerns. With the new lawsuit, however, the state is now seeking financial penalties in addition to an order to prohibit TikTok from engaging in unfair and deceptive conduct.

TikTok’s Age Ratings on App Stores Inaccurate, Claims Iowa Lawsuit

Filed in a Polk County state court, the lawsuit claims that TikTok’s “12+” age rating on the Apple App Store is inaccurate and results in exposing children to inappropriate content.

An app being marked as “12+” on the app store indicates that it might contain “infrequent/mild” profanity, sexual content, suggestive themes, crude humor, and references to the use of drugs, tobacco, and alcohol.

TikTok’s “T” for “Teen” ratings on the Microsoft Store and Google Play store aren’t accurate either, the lawsuit claims.

However, Iowa believes that a “17+” label would be more appropriate considering the amount of inappropriate content on the platform.

According to an investigation carried out by the state, a variety of inappropriate content is readily available to children as young as 13 years old on TikTok.

These include “videos promoting eating disorders, suicide, and self-harm”, music with profane lyrics, advice and encouragement” about using marijuana, and alcoholic drink recipes.

Under the state’s Consumer Fraud Act, Iowa now seeks a preliminary and permanent injunction that would restrict TikTok from misleading people about the presence of inappropriate content on the platform. The state also seeks several financial compensation, including disgorgement, civil penalties, and other fees.

The Attorney General accused TikTok of keeping parents in the dark and working its way around parental controls by lying about the severity of its content.

It’s time we shine a light on TikTok for exposing young children to graphic materials such as sexual content, self-harm, illegal drug use, and worse.Attorney General

TikTok responded to the lawsuit claiming that it has one of the best safeguards in the industry such as time limits and parental controls to prevent users aged below 18 years from accessing harmful content.

Mounting Pressure Against TikTok

Iowa is far from the only state in the US to bring a lawsuit against the Chinese-owned social media company.

The lawsuit accuses TikTok of baiting children into spending hours on social media, deceptive portrayal of itself as an entity independent of its parent company ByteDance, and misinterpretation of the app’s safety.

Back in October 2023, Utah sued TikTok for luring children into following unhealthy and adductive social media habits.

Similar lawsuits have also been filed against TikTok by the states of Arkansas and Indiana. Like Iowa, Indiana too has banned the app from state-owned devices.

In 2023, Utah became the first state in the country to pass laws focusing on limiting the time spent by children on social media platforms such as TikTok.

Set to go into effect this year, the law would impose a digital curfew on minors and require them to get parental consent before signing up on social media platforms.

While Montana tried to enforce a state-wide ban on TikTok last year, the move was blocked by US District Judge Donald Molloy.

Still, the pressure continues to mount on TikTok with a growing number of states taking up legal measures against the company.

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