Court dismisses Rokita suits against TikTok

By: - November 30, 2023 12:49 pm

An Allen County judge dismissed two suits from Attorney General Todd Rokita against TikTok. (Getty Images)

Nearly a year after filing two lawsuits against TikTok, Attorney General Todd Rokita’s challenge against the company and its parent ByteDance has been dismissed by an Allen County judge. 

Rokita alleged the popular app misrepresented its safety for children and data protection efforts.

An office spokesperson for Rokita said the agency is considering appellate options.

“Our lawsuit against TikTok was filed to protect our children and to protect our data privacy that we allege is being stolen by the Chinese Communist Party. We maintain their business model intentionally deceives children and adults to drive up profits by saying it is appropriate for kids and that your personal data is safe. Neither is true,” the office said in a statement. 

The statement continued to say the suit was “unfortunately dismissed” but that the office respected the ruling.

“However, we also disagree with it on various points…” the statement continued. “We were the first state to file suit against TikTok, but not the last, and it’s reassuring to see others take up this ongoing fight against a foreign Big Tech threat, in any jurisdiction.”

In the ruling from Judge Jennifer L. DeGroote, the court says the state didn’t sufficiently establish that TikTok’s statements about safety were made in Indiana or “directed at Indiana users specifically,” weakening its jurisdiction argument. 

Case background

In December 2022, Rokita filed two challenges in an Allen County court against TikTok and sought a preliminary injunction, which was denied a few months later.

In an accompanying release, Rokita claimed the app contained more sexual content, profanity and drug references than advertised — making it unsafe for children and violating the Indiana Deceptive Consumer Sales Act (DCSA). TikTok has a ‘T’ rating in app stores, meaning it’s available and considered safe for youth as young as 13.

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In the second suit, Rokita said the company “deceived” consumers into believing their personal data collected by the app was protected from the Chinese government. ByteDance is headquartered in Beijing and some U.S. politicians worry the data stored by ByteDance could be exploited by the Chinese government.

In May, Allen County Superior Court Judge Craig Bobay denied the state’s motion for a preliminary injunction, due to the state’s unlikely success in court. Bobay also said the court lacked jurisdiction.

“Additionally … the Court held that the State failed to establish that TikTok made false or otherwise deceptive representations when identifying the relative content categories,” the Wednesday ruling said, summarizing the case’s history. “Finally, the Court also held that the downloading of a free app did not constitute a consumer transaction as that term, used in the DCSA, is limited to exchanges for money.”

The court acknowledged the state’s argument that TikTok curated content for Hoosiers using the app via advertisements and recommended videos, but “Indiana-focused content and advertisements have nothing to do with the State’s claims, which address nationally-directed statements and content allegedly inappropriate for minors.”

“The State has not pled that this allegedly inappropriate content is targeted to Indiana residents in any manner different than it is to users in other states,” the filing continued. 

Additionally, determining whether mature content is “infrequent and mild” or “intense and frequent,” designations Apple uses to categorize its apps, “is clearly subjective.”

“One can see how easily the responses to those questions could vary from person to person,” the filing reads.

Though the court consolidated the cases, DeGroote details the dismissals in two different case docket filings. In a separate filing dismissing the suit alleging that TikTok “downplayed” its connections to China, DeGroote found that it also didn’t violate Indiana’s consumer protection act.

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Whitney Downard
Whitney Downard

A native of upstate New York, Whitney previously covered statehouse politics for CNHI’s nine Indiana papers, focusing on long-term healthcare facilities and local government. Prior to her foray into Indiana politics, she worked as a general assignment reporter for The Meridian Star in Meridian, Mississippi. Whitney is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University (#GoBonnies!), a community theater enthusiast and cat mom.

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