Utah Sues TikTok, Alleges App Profits From Child Sexual Exploitation

Utah Sues TikTok, Alleges App Profits From Child Sexual Exploitation
The TikTok app on a phone in New York City on March 13, 2024. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

The state of Utah has filed a lawsuit against video-streaming app TikTok over claims the platform operates a “virtual strip club,” allegedly exposing young users to sexual exploitation.

The lawsuit was filed in the Third Judicial District Court, Salt Lake County, Utah, on June 3 by the division of consumer protection of the Utah Department of Commerce; acting through Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes.

The heavily redacted lawsuit document alleges the social media app, through its “TikTok Live” feature, has “profited from manipulative design features that contribute to the emotional, financial, and sexual exploitation of children.”

That feature, which allows users to stream live videos of themselves and interact with viewers in real time, also lets viewers react to the live stream with virtual gifts, which can be cashed in for actual money.

Combined with TikTok’s virtual currency system, the Live feature “allows adults to prey on children in many egregious ways, including by transacting with and soliciting sexual acts from minors,” the lawsuit states.

“LIVE is far from a safe place for users—particularly children—and these dangers are no accident,” the complaint states. “The harmful and unconscionable acts on LIVE stem directly from TikTok’s in-app virtual economy, which has already facilitated billions of dollars in transactions.”

“The money is exchanged among users, stored on user accounts, and withdrawn from the platform, with little to no oversight, despite TikTok’s control over the platform. This monetary scheme has fostered an alarming culture of exploitation and illegal activity, ” the lawsuit adds.

In response to the latest suit, a TikTok spokesperson told various media outlets that the company has “industry-leading policies and measures to help protect the safety and well-being of teens.”

“Creators must be at least 18 years old before they can go LIVE, and their account must meet a follower requirement. We immediately revoke access to features if we find accounts that do not meet our age requirements,” the spokesperson said.

TikTok didn’t respond to a request for comment from The Epoch Times.

‘Virtual Strip Club Providing Streamers With Performance Stage’

The state of Utah’s lawsuit cites internal documents at TikTok that were obtained as part of a subpoena in a separate matter against the company.

It also says the video streaming giant is aware that its TikTok Live feature “operates in part like a virtual strip club, providing streamers with a performance stage, and allowing users to hand over virtual money.”

“In countless live streams, minors have been encouraged by adults to—among other illicit acts—strip, spread their legs, and flash body parts to the camera, in exchange for virtual gifts,” it states.

“Despite knowing and facilitating these dangers, the company turns a blind eye because LIVE has helped make TikTok very rich.”

The lawsuit does not state exactly how much money TikTok allegedly made through its Live feature.

Elsewhere, the lawsuit claims TikTok LIVE’s virtual currency feature “avoids regulatory schemes designed to identify and stop sexual exploitation and other illicit activities, like money laundering, terrorism financing, drug sales, and illegal gambling,” because the video-streaming app “refuses to appropriately oversee virtual currency exchanges.”

“Uniformly across all these dangerous activities—predatory gifting, money laundering, illegal gambling, and drug trafficking—TikTok rakes in large profits by taking a cut of each transaction,” the lawsuit states.

Shou Chew
Shou Zi Chew, CEO of TikTok, testifies during the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, “Big Tech and the Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis,” in Washington on Jan. 31, 2024. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

Potential TikTok Ban Looms

The lawsuit seeks to “stop TikTok’s continued profiting from deceptive design features that facilitate sexual exploitation, sex trafficking, the distribution of pornography, and other illegal acts through its virtual currency system in violation of the Utah Consumer Sales Practices Act.”

The state’s attorney general and the Division of Consumer Protection are also seeking a jury trial.

The lawsuit marks the second time Utah has mounted a legal challenge against the company, which is owned by China-based ByteDance.

In October, the state sued the company over what it said were its addictive algorithm and other features that are keeping young users “checking and watching the app compulsively” and helping fuel a mental health crisis.

That case is still playing out in court, as is a similar challenge against Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.

Both of Utah’s legal challenges are occurring at the same time that TikTok faces a potential ban in the United States. President Joe Biden signed a bill in April that requires ByteDance to sell TikTok to an American owner within a year or risk being banned from U.S. app stores.

ByteDance has vowed to challenge any ban.

From The Epoch Times