Iowa sues TikTok, alleging app misleads parents about inappropriate content

Iowa sued TikTok on Wednesday, accusing the video-based social media app of misrepresenting the prevalence of inappropriate content on the platform to avoid parental controls. 

The lawsuit alleges that TikTok falsely claims there is only infrequent or mild sexual content and nudity, profanity or crude humor, mature and suggestive themes, and alcohol, tobacco or drug use references on the platform to obtain a “12+” rating in Apple’s App Store.

“TikTok knows and intends to evade the parental controls on Apple devices by rating its app ‘12+,’” the complaint reads. “If TikTok correctly rated its app, it would receive a ‘17+’ age rating, and parental restrictions on phones would prevent many kids from downloading it.”

The Hawkeye State also accused TikTok of making “misleading, deceptive, and unconscionable” statements about the app’s Restricted Mode, which is meant to limit inappropriate content, as well as in its Community Guidelines and on the Google Play and Microsoft stores.

“TikTok has kept parents in the dark,” Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird (R) said in a statement. “It’s time we shine a light on TikTok for exposing young children to graphic materials such as sexual content, self-harm, illegal drug use, and worse.”

“TikTok has sneaked past parental blocks by misrepresenting the severity of its content. But no longer,” Bird added. “As a mom and prosecutor, I am committed to equipping parents with information to keep their kids safe and to holding TikTok accountable.”

Indiana filed a similar lawsuit in December 2022, alleging that TikTok misleadingly markets itself as appropriate for children ages 13 to 17 in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. However, the case was dismissed by a state judge in November.

A TikTok spokesperson noted in a statement that the platform has “industry leading safeguards in place for young people, including parental controls and time limits for those under 18.”

“We are committed to tackling industry wide challenges and will continue to prioritize community safety,” the spokesperson added.

Updated at 1:13 p.m.