Utah Takes Legal Action Against TikTok, Alleging Deceptive Practices and Child Endangerment

Utah Department of Commerce said, “This is the next important step in holding TikTok accountable for harming Utah’s children.” (Photo © Luiza Nalimova | Dreamstime.com)

In a groundbreaking legal move, Utah Governor Spencer J. Cox and Attorney General Sean D. Reyes have announced a lawsuit against the social media behemoth, TikTok, accusing it of illicitly luring children into addictive usage patterns, misrepresenting the app’s safety, and deceptively obscuring its ties to its China-based parent company, ByteDance.

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The lawsuit, filed in state court by the Utah Department of Commerce’s Division of Consumer Protection, alleges that TikTok has covertly developed and implemented addictive features to ensnare young users in perpetual scrolling through the app.

The objective, according to the complaint, is to maximize user screen time, thereby increasing advertisement exposure and, consequently, revenue.

Governor Cox declared, “We will no longer tolerate TikTok misleading parents that its app is safe for children. Social media companies must be held responsible for the harms they are causing.”

He emphasized the consensus among various experts, including the U.S. Surgeon General and behavioral science researchers, regarding the detrimental impact of social media on children’s mental health.

Attorney General Reyes expressed a staunch commitment to safeguarding Utah’s children, stating, “TikTok will only change if put at legal risk—and ‘at risk’ is where they have left our youth in exchange for profit and greed.”

The lawsuit, invoking the Utah Consumer Sales Practices Act, delineates the repercussions of TikTok’s actions on Utah’s citizens, asserting that extended use of TikTok adversely affects Utah children’s mental health and well-being.

This issue is especially pertinent for Utah, which boasts the nation’s highest number of children per capita. Amidst the soaring popularity of TikTok, Utah has witnessed a sharp uptick in mental health issues among its youth.

Margaret Woolley Busse, Executive Director of the Utah Department of Commerce, asserted, “This is the next important step in holding TikTok accountable for harming Utah’s children.”

She affirmed the state’s resolve to maintain pressure on TikTok and urged parents and stakeholders to share their experiences at socialmedia.utah.gov.

The lawsuit also contends that TikTok deceived users regarding its entanglement and governance by ByteDance. Citing leaked documents, the complaint indicates that the company sought to “downplay the parent company ByteDance, [and] downplay the China association.”

The legal filing enumerates three separate counts, accusing TikTok of:

1. Deploying, refining, and marketing an addictive product with design features intended to manipulate children, while being cognizant of the harm inflicted on young users.

2. Misleading young users and their parents by asserting the app’s safety despite being aware of its dangers.

3. Deceiving Utah consumers about the extent of TikTok’s integration with and control by ByteDance.

The State aims to halt TikTok’s alleged unlawful business practices and shield Utah’s children and users at large.

The complaint also petitions the court to impose penalties and other relief to dissuade TikTok and similar social media companies from perpetrating analogous violations of state law in the future.

The State’s investigation into TikTok is ongoing.

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