INDIANAPOLIS – The fate of the Indiana attorney general’s lawsuit against the social media company TikTok is uncertain after a federal judge lambasted much of the case as “political posturing.”
While U.S. District Judge Holly Brady ruled against TikTok's request to move the case to federal court, that decision leaves the lawsuit brought by Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita in the hands of a county judge who last month ruled against Rokita on two key points. The state attorney general claims the Chinese-owned video-sharing platform misleads users about its level of inappropriate content and about the security of consumer information. A county judge has already said the attorney general is wrong to classify downloading TikTok as a consumer transaction because no money is exchanged, and that Indiana lacks standing in the case because both TikTok and Apple — the company where people download the app — are based in California.
The most recent blow came May 23, when Brady wrote in a decision that “more than 90% of the (lawsuit) was devoted to irrelevant posturing."
“When one wades through the political posturing and finds that legal claim, the inescapable conclusion is that the claim rises and falls on matters particular to state law," Brady, a Fort Wayne, Indiana-based judge nominated by then-President Donald Trump, wrote. "The federal intrigue interjected by Indiana may interest its intended audience -- one beyond the courthouse wall -- but it is irrelevant to the determination of this case.”
Indiana's lawsuit, which was filed in December, makes arguments similar to those by many state and federal lawmakers and government officials who have said they worry that the Chinese government could harvest U.S. user data from TikTok and use the platform to push pro-Beijing misinformation or messages to the public. TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese tech giant ByteDance, has said it has never been asked to hand over its data to the Chinese government and has denied Indiana's claims about inappropriate content.
The state attorney general’s office did not immediately comment Monday on Brady’s decision or the lawsuit’s future. TikTok’s attorneys and the ByteDance media office didn’t immediately reply to requests for comment either.
Brady’s decision keeps the lawsuit in state courts, where a judge last month denied Rokita’s request for a preliminary injunction prohibiting TikTok from stating in online app stores that it has “none” or “infrequent/mild” references to drugs, sexual or other inappropriate content for children as young as 12.
Judge Craig Bobay of Allen County Superior Court in Fort Wayne also ruled that downloading TikTok’s free app doesn’t amount to a consumer transaction and said the attorney general’s office was unlikely to win at trial.
The attorney general's office hasn't said whether it will appeal Bobay's decision.