Utah has sued TikTok over child safety issues and the company’s China-based ownership, CNBC has reported. In the complaint, attorney general Sean Reyes called the app “an addictive product” and accused it of misleading users about its relationship with China-based parent company ByteDance. The state recently enacted some of the strictest social media laws in the country, requiring parental permission for teens to use social media.
The lawsuit compares TikTok to a slot machine that provides “dopamine manipulation” trigged by swiping up on videos. That addictive nature is particularly harmful for the “not-yet-fully-developed” brain of young users and can create a dependence on the app, the state claims. It noted that the US Surgeon General has warned about mental health harms around social media, and cited excessive TikTok usage based around the company’s own (redacted) figures.
“What these children (and their parents) do not know is that TikTok is lying to them about the safety of its app and exploiting them into checking and watching the app compulsively, no matter the terrible effects it has on their mental health, their physical development, their family, and their social life,” the complaint states.
The lawsuit also delves into TikTok’s links to China. “To avoid scrutiny from its users (and regulators), TikTok has also misled Utah consumers about the degree to which TikTok remains enmeshed with and under the control of ByteDance, it’s China-based parent company.”
TikTok previously said that it has dedicated more than $1.5 billion on data security, and has rejected allegations that it’s spying for the Chinese government. The company also recently opened a Transparency and Accountability Center in an effort to fend off regulators and potential bans.
The federal government has yet to take any concrete action against social media platforms, but states have been more active. Utah recently passed a law requiring parents to get permission before teens can create accounts on TikTok, Snap and other platforms. It also mandates curfew, parental controls and age verification features. The state didn’t go as far as Montana, however, which outright banned the use of TikTok. Tomorrow, a judge will hear arguments in TikTok’s lawsuit seeking to overturn that ban — a case that could open the company up to more scrutiny and set precedent around the US.