HELENA – Montana’s Attorney General Austin Knudsen and 14 other state attorneys general today called on Apple and Google to take immediate action and correct their application store age ratings of TikTok by the end of the year. The change will help parents protect their children from being force-fed harmful content online.
In a pair of letters to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Knudsen and the joining attorneys general outlined the deceptive nature of the current ratings for the social media application in their story. They said that without the rating corrections, the states reserve the right to take legal action against the companies for the misrepresenting TikTok, up to and including litigation and civil penalties.
“We’ve known for a long time how TikTok acts as a Chinese Trojan horse, feeding harmful and adult content to children. It exposes kids to harmful content that promotes drugs and alcohol use, glorifies eating disorders, and encourages illegal and dangerous ‘challenges,’ whether they are searching for it or not. Drug cartels have even used it to recruit teenagers to join them,” Attorney General Knudsen said. “Parents are the first line of defense, but their job is being made more difficult by ratings that misrepresent the true content found on the platform. It’s past time for Apple and Google to do their part in helping parents keep their kids safe online and increase their TikTok ratings.”
The current ratings of “T” for “Teen” in the Google Play App store and “12+” in Apple’s App Store facilitates the deception of consumers on a massive scale and falsely represents the objectionable content found and served to children on TikTok. While TikTok does have a “restricted mode” available, it is also aware that many its users are under 13 and have lied about their age in order to create a profile on its platform.
The TikTok app contains frequent and intense alcohol, tobacco, and drug use or references, sexual content, profanity, and mature/suggestive themes. TikTok users can search for hundreds of thousands of hashtags related to these topics, which each return thousands of videos in these categories—instructional videos about drug use, descriptions of drinking games, recipes for cannabis edibles, demonstrations of vaping tricks, pole dancing routines, and millions of videos set to songs with explicit lyrics, which TikTok makes available to users in its music library.
TikTok not only allows users to find this content, but it suggests it to users through its “autocomplete” search function and by offering this type of content to users on the “For You” page – including for accounts registered to 13-year-old users.
“Parents depend on the accuracy of age ratings,” the letters said. “When parents are deceived into letting their kids download TikTok, there are real consequences. Exposure to drug, alcohol, and tobacco content on social media makes kids more likely to use or experiment with those illicit substances in real life. And exposure to sexual content on TikTok can lead to pornography addiction and even the sexual exploitation of kids by online predators.”
Attorneys general from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Virginia joined Attorney General Knudsen’s letters.
Attorney General Knudsen launched an investigation of TikTok in February, making Montana the first state to do so. That investigation is ongoing.