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Business law expert says Rokita TikTok lawsuits could set precedent

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A business professor on Thursday said Attorney General Todd Rokita’s two new lawsuits against TikTok represent a growing bipartisan consensus on tech regulation.

Scott Shackelford, a professor at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business and the executive director of IU’s Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research, said the lack of comprehensive data privacy regulations in the United States could hobble efforts such as Rokita’s. Still, he said recent revelations about TikTok’s handling of data privacy could be enough to give the lawsuits a chance in court.

“There’s been a variety of investigations to look into those ties in more detail and what’s come to light publicly is there has been more sharing than has been let on by TikTok executives,” he said. “Now, connecting the dots is challenging in this context because a lot of it is secret, a lot of it is confidential, a lot of it is coming from national security sources.”

Late Wednesday, Rokita’s office announced he had filed two lawsuits against TikTok and its parent company, Bytedance. One lawsuit claims TikTok does not do enough to prevent minors from accessing adult content. A sworn affidavit from an attorney claims the attorney was able to access a number of videos containing drug-related or strong sexual content despite using a profile registered to a 13-year-old and using the app in restricted mode, which is designed to enable parental controls. The other lawsuit attacks TikTok over its ties to China. Bytedance is headquartered in China and many officials and cybersecurity experts have said they fear the Chinese government will be able to access the company’s data at will. TikTok has said its operations are based outside China and it follows U.S. consumer protection laws. TikTok did not respond to News 8’s request for comment for this story.

Rokita’s lawsuits are the latest in a string of setbacks for TikTok. Last Friday, during an event at the University of Michigan, FBI Director Christopher Wray said China could use TikTok to collect user data for use in spying operations. Then, on Monday and Tuesday of this week, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan both issued executive orders banning the use of TikTok on state-issued devices. The governors of Nebraska and South Dakota have issued similar orders.

Congressman Jim Banks, R-Indiana, who is an outspoken critic of TikTok, said he applauded Rokita’s decision to sue. He said the Pentagon already has identified TikTok as a threat and noted the Department of Defense’s order two years ago banning the app from use on military bases.

“TikTok is owned and controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, which is an adversary to the United States of America,” he said. “The data that they obtain from American users is something that they collect and could very well use against us.”

Banks said Congressional Republicans plan to introduce legislation to ban TikTok on any federally-issued device when they regain control of the House next month.

Shackelford said of the two lawsuits, the data privacy one is more likely to succeed in court. If either lawsuit is successful, he said it could set a precedent for future data privacy regulation.