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Bipartisan group of state attorneys general opens investigation into popular social media app TikTok

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Photo Illustration by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A group of state attorneys general, including attorneys general from both political parties and from widely divergent areas of the country, has opened an investigation into the popular social media app TikTok regarding the way the app markets itself to young consumers.

According to a report from the New York Times, the bipartisan coalition represents the same attorneys general who opened an investigation into Facebook's marketing practices last November. The group seeks to examine whether the way these apps market themselves to younger users and the techniques used to keep them constantly checking the apps is harmful to teens and children. If so, the companies may be found in violation of state consumer protection laws.

Thus far, attorneys general from California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee, Vermont and Michigan have joined the investigation.

Michigan's Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel explained her decision to join the investigation, saying, "Recent reports on social media’s impact on the mental and physical health of young people raise serious questions among attorneys general across the nation. Ultimately, we are concerned about protecting our youth."

The investigations into Facebook and TikTok follow Congressional hearings last year, in which members of Congress grilled social media executives about child online safety and addiction to social media apps.

Additionally, the state of Texas last month opened its own investigation into TikTok, alleging that the app violated children's privacy and contributed to online sex trafficking.

In a Wednesday statement, TikTok responded to the investigation by saying, "We care deeply about building an experience that helps to protect and support the well-being of our community, and appreciate that the state attorneys general are focusing on the safety of younger users. We look forward to providing information on the many safety and privacy protections we have for teens."

While TikTok's popularity has grown exponentially in the United States, particularly among younger users, its growth has not been without controversy. In addition to concerns about its marketing practices to young users, which prompted a federal investigation last year, online privacy experts have repeatedly cautioned that the app — which is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance — may be feeding private information to the Chinese government. Those concerns led former president Donald Trump to engage in an abortive attempt to ban the app in the United States or force its merger with a U.S.-based company. TikTok has denied that it provides any user data to the Chinese government.

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