Utah sues TikTok over China connections, manipulating children with addictive design

What just happened? Ever-controversial app TikTok has been sued by the state of Utah over allegations it deliberately misleads people over its relationship with Chinese parent ByteDance and harms children with its “addictive nature.”

In the suit, filed by Utah’s Division of Consumer Protection (UDCP), Attorney General Sean Reyes accuses TikTok of violating Utah’s consumer laws by deploying and marketing “an addictive product with design features intended to manipulate children.” It’s also accused of misrepresenting the safety of the app and deceptively claiming it “can effectively maintain a safe digital environment for children,” as well as claiming it’s a US-based company when it is actually controlled by ByteDance in China.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said TikTok “illegally baits children into addictive and unhealthy use,” encouraging them to scroll indefinitely so advertisers can make more money. The lawsuit compares the app to a slot machine, where the dopamine rush compels users to continue swiping up to see new videos. This is said to be particularly harmful to the “not-yet-fully-developed” brain of young users and can create a dependence on the app.

“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.

A recent study found that most teens spend almost two hours each day on TikTok, which was by far the most popular platform among those aged 11 to 17.

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Utah has been cracking down hard on social media as it looks to protect minors from the platforms’ harmful effects. Cox signed two new laws earlier this year that include blocking under-18s from using social media between 10:30 pm and 6:30 am, reminiscent of China’s curfew on the same age group that limits their online gaming time to 3 hours per week. However, parents or guardians would be able to change the times.

Furthermore, the new law would require social media owners like Meta to gain a parent’s permission before a teen could create an account on a platform. Companies would also be barred “from using a design or feature that causes a minor to have an addiction to the company’s social media platform,” something TikTok is accused of, and companies would be required to give parents access to their kids’ posts, messages, and responses.

Montana has gone even further than Utah by banning TikTok for everyone in the state, though the company is trying to get the decision overturned in court.

A survey of over 1,000 people in August found that almost half somewhat support banning the use of TikTok in the United States.

h/t: CNBC