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Utah sues TikTok over child addiction harm, targets “enmeshment” with its China-based parent company

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE   

Oct. 10, 2023   


CONTACTS   

Emma Williams

Office of the Governor

385-303-4383, ewilliams@utah.gov

Richard Piatt  
Utah Attorney General’s Office 
801-631-8964, rpiatt@agutah.gov  


Utah sues TikTok over child addiction harm, targets “enmeshment” with its China-based parent company
Top officials assert TikTok misleads parents about app safety

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH  Today, Utah Governor Spencer J. Cox and Attorney General Sean D. Reyes announced a lawsuit against TikTok. After extensive investigation, the state alleges the social media giant illegally baits children into addictive and unhealthy use, blatantly misrepresents the app’s safety, and deceptively portrays itself as independent of its China-based parent company ByteDance.

In a complaint filed in state court, the Utah Department of Commerce’s Division of Consumer Protection alleges that TikTok surreptitiously designed and deployed addictive features to hook young users into endlessly scrolling through the company’s app. To make more money, TikTok wants Utah consumers to spend as much time on its app as possible so it can place advertisements in front of them more often. Furthermore, the lawsuit alleges that the company misled young users and their parents about the app’s dangers.

“We will no longer tolerate TikTok misleading parents that its app is safe for children,” said Gov. Cox. “Social media companies must be held responsible for the harms they are causing. The experts — from the U.S. Surgeon General and behavioral science researchers to parents and teens — all agree that social media is affecting our children’s mental health and it’s time to intervene.”

“My top priority is protecting our children in Utah,” Attorney General Reyes said. “I’m tired of TikTok lying to Utah parents. I’m tired of our kids losing their innocence and even their lives addicted to the dark side of social media. 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. Immediate and pervasive threats require swift and bold responses. We have a compelling case against TikTok. Our kids are worth the fight.”

The suit, which brings claims under the Utah Consumer Sales Practices Act, details the impact of TikTok’s conduct on Utah’s citizens, alleging that prolonged TikTok use interferes with Utah children’s mental health and well-being. This is particularly concerning for Utahns, as the State has the country’s largest number of children per capita. The U.S. Surgeon General recently warned that unchecked social media use like this poses a risk to children. Like many states, Utah has seen rapid increases in mental health issues among its young people while TikTok’s popularity has skyrocketed. 

“This is the next important step in holding TikTok accountable for harming Utah’s children,” said Margaret Woolley Busse, Executive Director of the Utah Department of Commerce. “However, we will not let up the pressure on TikTok as we continue our investigation. We encourage parents and other stakeholders to share their experiences with TikTok at socialmedia.utah.gov.”

In addition to the child addiction issue, the suit alleges that TikTok misled users about how the social media company is entangled with and controlled by its China-based parent company, ByteDance. The complaint cites leaked documents that suggest “key messages” the company wanted to present to the public, including that TikTok should “downplay the parent company ByteDance, [and] downplay the China association.”

The lawsuit comes as the Division continues its lengthy investigation, which recently led to the Attorney General filing a contempt motion after TikTok failed to properly comply with investigative subpoenas. This complaint represents the newest legal filing and alleges three separate counts:

  1. TikTok deployed, continually refined, and marketed an addictive product with design features intended to manipulate children, all while knowing that the product caused harm to these young users — an unconscionable business practice.
  2. TikTok misled young users and their parents by representing that its app was safe when it knew it was not — a deceptive business practice.
  3. TikTok misled Utah consumers about the degree to which TikTok remains enmeshed with and under the control of ByteDance, its China-based parent company — another deceptive business practice.

With this lawsuit, the State seeks to stop TikTok’s alleged illegal business practices and protect Utah’s children and users more generally. The complaint also asks the court to impose a penalty and other relief to deter TikTok and other social media companies from committing similar violations of state law in the future. 

The state’s investigation into TikTok continues. View a copy of the final lawsuit here.

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