News Reports, Congressional Hearings Highlight Ongoing Concerns About Privacy on TikTok

News reports and congressional testimony continue to raise concerns about privacy on social media giant TikTok.

A column appearing in last week’s Wall Street Journal highlighted TikTok’s ongoing struggle to protect Americans’ user data from China, writing,

TikTok said it has spent $1.5 billion building an operation intended to convince U.S. lawmakers that the popular video-sharing app is safe.

TikTok executives publicly promised to voluntarily wall-off American user data and bring in engineers and third parties to certify the app’s algorithm delivered content without interference from China, where its parent company, ByteDance, is located.

So far, TikTok is struggling to live up to those promises.

The article goes on to note that TikTok employees sometimes share user data with ByteDance colleagues outside of official channels — including users’ email addresses, IP addresses, and birth dates.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports U.S. Senator Tom Cotton questioned TikTok’s CEO over the platform’s ties to China during congressional hearings last week.

Sen. Cotton — as well as many other elected officials — has expressed concerns that TikTok’s connections to China could give members of the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal data.

According to the article, TikTok’s CEO denied the company is under the influence of the Chinese Communist Party.

However, last year Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin filed two lawsuits alleging TikTok violated Arkansas’ Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

One of the lawsuits alleges that TikTok failed to fully disclose that TikTok is subject to Chinese law — including “laws that mandate secret cooperation with intelligence activities of the People’s Republic of China.”

The lawsuit also alleges that TikTok “routinely exposes Arkansas consumers’ data, without their knowledge, to access and exploitation by the Chinese Government and Communist Party” and that “TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, has admitted to using data gathered through TikTok to surveil Americans.”

A second lawsuit alleges the social media giant violated the Deceptive Trade Practices Act by promoting “intensely sexualized” content — including content that sexualizes children — on its platform.

Last year the Arkansas Legislature passed the Social Media Safety Act — a good law by Sen. Tyler Dees (R – Siloam Springs) and Rep. Jon Eubanks (R – Paris) requiring major social media companies to ensure minors don’t access social media platforms without parental consent. A social media company that violated the law could be held liable.

In response, tech giants — such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok — sued to strike down the Social Media Safety Act as unconstitutional.

Last summer U.S. District Judge Timothy Brooks in Fayetteville issued an ordering blocking the State of Arkansas from enforcing the Social Media Safety Act.

Among other things, Judge Brooks’ ruling claims that Arkansas’ Social Media Safety Act is unconstitutionally broad and vague, and that most social media content is not “damaging, harmful, or obscene as to minors.”

The truth is there’s mounting evidence that — by design — social media platforms like TikTok may deliberately push objectionable content to kids and put users’ personal information at risk. With that in mind, it’s good to see policymakers taking action to rein in these tech giants.

Articles appearing on this website are written with the aid of Family Council’s researchers and writers.

Arkansas Attorney General Continues Sparring With TikTok in Court

The Arkansas Attorney General’s office continues to spar with social media giants in state court.

This year the A.G.’s team filed multiple lawsuits alleging Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok violated Arkansas’ Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

Two of the lawsuits are against ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok. A third lawsuit is against Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.

Earlier this month lawyers with the attorney general’s office filed an amended complaint in one of the lawsuits against TikTok further alleging the social media giant promotes “intensely sexualized” content to users — including content that sexualizes minors.

The A.G.’s team writes:

Recent reporting by Forbes magazine even demonstrates that child sexual abuse material (also known as “child pornography”) is available and promoted on TikTok. While TikTok purports to remove such content when it is posted for other users to see on TikTok, some accounts get around this removal by posting child sexual abuse material “privately” so that only the account user can see the material.

The lawsuit also highlights flaws with TikTok’s filter — called “Restricted Mode” — intended to block inappropriate content.

The A.G.’s complaint says:

Even for those users who do have Restricted Mode enabled, the setting fails to prevent mature content from being visible to young users; on TikTok, a vast library of intense sexual content, intense suggestive content, intense drug, alcohol, and tobacco content, and intense profanity is available to users with Restricted Mode turned on.

Despite these serious problems — which Attorney General Griffin’s team argues TikTok could fix — TikTok continues to market its social media app as being appropriate for ages 13 and up.

It’s good to see the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office proactively working to stop tech giants like TikTok and Facebook from harming children. Family Council will continue to monitor and report on each of these lawsuits in the coming months.

Articles appearing on this website are written with the aid of Family Council’s researchers and writers.