TikTok is getting sued by the state of Iowa over claims that it’s lying to parents about the presence of sexual content, drugs, alcohol, profanity, and other inappropriate material in the app. In a lawsuit filed on Wednesday, Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird claimed TikTok is making this kind of content “easily accessible” to young users while maintaining an inaccurate “12+” age rating on the Apple App Store.
As noted in the lawsuit, a 12-plus rating on the App Store means an app has “infrequent/mild” sexual content, profanity, crude humor, suggestive themes, and references to alcohol, tobacco, or drug use. However, the state of Iowa claims the content on TikTok’s app doesn’t fit this description, adding that it would receive a 17-plus label if “correctly” rated by TikTok. The state alleges TikTok’s “T” for “Teen” ratings in the Google Play Store and Microsoft Store are also inaccurate.
“TikTok has sneaked past parental blocks by misrepresenting the severity of its content.”
“TikTok has kept parents in the dark,” Attorney General Bird 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.”
An investigation done by the state found that users as young as 13 years old can “readily find” recipes for alcoholic drinks, “advice and encouragement” about using marijuana, music with profane lyrics, and “videos promoting eating disorders, suicide, and self-harm.” Additionally, the lawsuit claims TikTok’s Restricted Mode, which is supposed to limit content “that may not be appropriate for all audiences,” doesn’t work when enabled.
Iowa is seeking a preliminary and permanent injunction under Iowa’s Consumer Fraud Act to stop TikTok from making misleading statements about the presence of inappropriate content in its app. It’s also seeking civil penalties, disgorgement, and other fees.
“TikTok has industry leading safeguards in place for young people, including parental controls and time limits for those under 18,” TikTok spokesperson Alex Haurek said in an emailed statement to The Verge. “We are committed to tackling industry wide challenges and will continue to prioritize community safety.”
This isn’t the first time TikTok has faced these kinds of allegations. In 2022, Indiana filed a now-dismissed lawsuit against TikTok, alleging the app misled parents about showing sexual and drug-related content to minors. The company is still the subject of several other lawsuits, including one from Utah that claims it makes children “addicted to the app.” TikTok is also facing uncertainty over whether states can legally block young users from signing up for the app without parental permission.