TikTok cites its offices in Los Angeles and Singapore as proof of its independence, and says the Chinese government has never attempted to access the data of U.S. users. The company spent more than $4.2 million lobbying lawmakers and the White House in the first three quarters of this year to fend off increased scrutiny.
TikTok CEO Shouzi Zhou has also been on a charm offensive to appease critics. He has said that data on U.S. users will be hosted on servers controlled by Oracle, the U.S. cloud computing company, and has denied that the Chinese government has access to the data.
The Indiana attorney general said those assurances were not credible because Chinese law empowers the government to request data from U.S. affiliates. TikTok has promised to eventually delete all “protected” data of U.S. users from TikTok’s systems, but the lawsuit says it’s unclear what data is “protected.”
The lawsuit says the company is deceiving consumers by failing to disclose the risks of entering China. In Europe, TikTok disclosed that user data could be accessed by individuals outside Europe, including individuals in China. The attorney general said questions remained about TikTok’s history of sharing data and engineering resources with ByteDance.
“TikTok knowingly misled and deceived Indiana consumers and will continue to do so,” the complaint states. “If the Chinese government or the Chinese Communist Party want to access TikTok’s U.S. user data, they can.”
The second complaint describes TikTok, which is popular with young people, as a “Trojan horse” that uses its marketing to present teens as safe for those who are at least 12 years old and then subjects them to inappropriate Sexuality, Alcohol and Drug Use – related content. TikTok’s policy statement that there is “uncommon” or “mild” adult content on the app obscures the trove of troubling content that is easily accessible to younger users, the lawsuit said.
TikTok has introduced a feature that allows parents to link their accounts with their children’s so they can control what their teens see on the app and how much time they spend on it. But even in “restricted” mode, a feature designed to block certain adult content, pornography can still reach young users, the complaint said. A number of state attorneys general are expected to write to Apple and Google asking their app stores to raise the age limit for TikTok users to at least 17, a person familiar with the matter said.
“TikTok is Joe Camel on steroids,” the complaint said.