California Attorney General Announces TikTok Investigation

A nationwide investigation will examine the risks posed by hugely popular short video app TikTok to kids, California Atty. Gene. Rob Bonta announced on Wednesday.

Among the questions that the investigation will focus on will be how the company has sought to increase the length and frequency of use of its app by young people, the extent to which the company is aware of any harm it may cause to these users, and whether this is a violation of copyright laws. consumers.

“Our kids are growing up in the age of social media and many feel they need to conform to the filtered versions of reality they see on their screens,” Bonta said in an interview. statement. “We know that this has a devastating effect on the mental health and well-being of children. But we don’t know what social media companies knew about this harm or when.”

“Our nationwide investigation will allow us to get much-needed answers and determine if TikTok is breaking the law by promoting its platform to young Californians,” he said.

Bonta’s office said the investigation was being led by attorneys general from eight states: California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee and Vermont. Unspecified attorneys general from other states will also be involved.

TikTok offers a combination of video entertainment and social media that has made it a hit with many Americans, especially young people, during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020 he became the most downloaded app in the world by some measures.

Responding to the investigation, a TikTok spokesperson told The Times that the company cares deeply “to create experiences that help protect and support the well-being of our community,” adding that the company limits certain features of the platform by age and invests in ways for users to “enjoy content based on from age or family comfort.

TikTok appreciates “that state attorneys general are focused on the safety of young users,” a spokesperson wrote in an email. “We look forward to providing information on the many security and privacy protections we have for teens.”

Not too long ago, the app’s future in the United States looked uncertain. In August 2020, then President Trump issued a writ of execution aims to ban an app owned by Chinese company ByteDance in the US, citing national security concerns. ByteDance has negotiated with Microsoft and other US companies to avoid the outage by transferring ownership or control of user data.

While some security concerns still persist, threats of a complete ban have since evaporated.

In November Bonta helped launch a similar investigation into how Instagram, another social network, is trying to increase the engagement of younger users and the impact on those users’ mental health. (Bonta has not issued a press release informing the public of the status of this investigation since he first announced it.)

This investigation began after Meta, the company that owns Instagram, suspended plans to develop a spin-off app targeting kids after whistleblower Frances Haugen reported that Instagram could harm the mental health of young users, especially teenage girls.

A Wall Street Journal report revealed that the Meta was aware of these concerns but consistently downplayed them.

Bonta’s new investigation into TikTok will be bipartisan, with Republican Attorneys General of Florida, Kentucky, Nebraska, and Tennessee leading in collaboration with their Democratic counterparts from California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Vermont. Technical regulation is one of the few areas of modern politics where bipartisan consensus still prevails, although the two parties differ in their emphasis: liberals focus on misinformation and monopoly power, while conservatives sound the alarm about censorship and bias.

Concern about the safety of children proved to be especially unifying. Heated debates about the extent to which social media platforms should regulate their users’ content almost always draw a line under child sexual abuse material. Age restrictions, while not always enforced, are also common on the Internet.

Even President Biden’s address to the US Congress, delivered the night before Bonta’s announcement, affected problem.

“As Frances Haugen, who is here with us tonight, has shown, we must hold social media platforms accountable for the national experiment they are doing on our children for profit,” Biden said. “It’s time to strengthen privacy protections, ban targeted ads for children [and] require technology companies to stop collecting personal data about our children.”