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Friday, January 27, 2023

GOP state officials escalating feud with TikTok as Indiana and Texas take new action

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Officials from Indiana and Texas are joining a growing cadre of state-level Republicans taking on TikTok, wielding litigation and new restrictions against the China-linked tech platform while the Biden administration remains undecided about a federal crackdown. 

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita said he filed two lawsuits this week against TikTok, one alleging the platform misled children in luring them onto the social media app and another claiming TikTok deceived consumers regarding the safety of its data. 

The lawsuits filed in Indiana court portray TikTok as deliberately falsifying info about the risk of TikTok user data falling into the hands of the Chinese government, and the litigation said TikTok promotes inappropriate content to teens. 

“In multiple ways, TikTok represents a clear and present danger to Hoosiers that is hiding in plain sight in their own pockets,” Mr. Rokita said in a statement on Wednesday. “At the very least, the company owes consumers the truth about the age-appropriateness of its content and the insecurity of the data it collects on users.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, meanwhile, has ordered state agencies to ban the use of TikTok on all government-issued devices over concerns that the Chinese Communist Party may gain access to U.S. information and infrastructure. 

In letters to Texas officials, Mr. Abbott explained the move on Wednesday as motivated by concerns about data security. 

“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 wrote. 

Texas’ new restrictions follow similar prohibitions imposed by Maryland and South Carolina this week and South Dakota last month.  

TikTok has said it believes the mounting state-level bans are “largely fueled by misinformation about our company.” The platform said it welcomes meetings with state policymakers. 

Regarding Indiana’s lawsuits and allegations of harm to children, TikTok spokeswoman Brooke Oberwetter said the platform’s policies are mindful of kids’ and parents’ experiences with the app. 

“While we don’t comment on pending litigation, the safety, privacy and security of our community is our top priority,” Ms. Oberwetter said in a statement Thursday. “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.”

The Biden administration has not reached a conclusion in its review of TikTok for national security concerns, which were initiated by the Trump administration. 

While negotiations with the federal government have reportedly encountered more delays amid fresh concerns, Ms. Oberwetter said TikTok remained confident it would “fully satisfy all reasonable U.S. national security concerns.”

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