Republican AGs target TikTok’s app store age ratings

In letters to Google and Apple, top Republican attorneys general asked the tech giants to change the age rating given to the popular video-sharing app, which was developed by a Chinese company.
Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita (R). (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Fifteen Republican attorneys general are demanding that Apple and Google increase the age rating for the social media site TikTok, which they say is inappropriate for younger users.

In letters sent Tuesday to Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Apple CEO Tim Cook, Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen (R) called on Google to change TikTok’s app store rating from “T” for teen to “M” for mature and that Apple change its rating from “12+” to “17+.”

“The TikTok app contains frequent and intense alcohol, tobacco, and drug use or references, sexual content, profanity, and mature/suggestive themes,” Knudsen wrote in the letter. “When parents are deceived into letting their kids download TikTok, there are real consequences.”

Those consequences, Knudsen said, include leading kids to pornography and, potentially, exploitation by online predators

The attorneys general of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Virginia also signed the letter.

Google and Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Pluribus News. In a statement, a TikTok spokesperson said the company took age-related concerns seriously.

One of our most important commitments is supporting the safety and well-being of teens which we strive to accomplish through robust safety policies and parental controls, age-appropriate account settings, and over 40,000 safety professionals dedicated to keeping our community safe and welcoming,” the spokesperson said in an email.

Last year, TikTok announced that it was changing its default settings for users ages 13 to 15 to increase privacy and safety.

“We want our younger users to be able to make informed choices about what and with whom they choose to share, which includes whether they want to open their account to public views,” the company said at the time. 

In their letter, the attorneys general say that TikTok makes it easy for younger users – even those using its “Restricted Mode” – to find inappropriate content. They also assert that TikTok is aware that “a large number of its users” are under 13.

On its Google Play support page, Google says ratings are the responsibility of app developers and the International Age Rating Coalition.

Apple’s website says that apps rated 12+ include “infrequent or mild references” to topics such as alcohol, tobacco, profanity, sexual content or nudity. Last year, Apple said it updated its age ratings.

The attorneys general counter that the TikTok app includes “frequent and intense” content on subjects such as drug use, drinking games, vaping tricks, descriptions of rape fantasies and “millions of videos set to songs with explicit lyrics.”

The letters to Google and Apple are the latest in a growing GOP assault on TikTok over its connections to China. TikTok was developed by ByteDance, a Chinese company headquartered in Beijing.

At least half a dozen Republican governors have banned the video-sharing app from state networks and devices over concerns about security vulnerabilities.

In a statement last week responding to the state-level bans of TikTok, company spokesperson Jamal Brown said, “We believe the concerns driving these bans are largely fueled by misinformation about our company.”

Last week, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita (R) filed lawsuits alleging that TikTok lures children to its platform and then does not adequately protect them from inappropriate content.

Rokita said the company makes it easy for young users to find inappropriate content through its “autocomplete” search function, which anticipates what a user is typing into the search window.

“In reality, drug-related content, sexual and suggestive content, and profanity are rampant

on TikTok,” the lawsuit said. “TikTok’s algorithm serves up a steady stream of this inappropriate content to users as young as 13. These children can search for and find thousands upon thousands of videos in those content categories, many of which have millions of views.”

In their letters to Apple and Google, the attorneys general said some of them were considering taking legal action against TikTok over its age rating. But they said Google and Apple also bear responsibility for the ratings.

“By allowing TikTok to continue claiming a false ‘12+’ rating, Apple is facilitating the deception of consumers on a massive scale,” the letter to Cook said.

In Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) introduced legislation that would ban TikTok and other Chinese or Russian influenced social media sites from the United States, citing national security concerns and recent warnings by FBI Director Christopher Wray.