TikTok could be found in contempt of court if it doesn’t comply with subpoenas issued by Utah, a judge said Wednesday, the latest in the state’s ongoing legal battle over accusations that the social media giant is harming its teen users.

Both subpoenas were issued earlier this year — one asks TikTok to clarify a number of business practices, including its data sharing policies in China, how the company prohibits nudity and sexual solicitation, and what information the company collects from users when they create an account.

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But according to Utah Solicitor General Melissa Holyoak, a number of those questions remain unanswered. During a hearing Wednesday, 3rd District Court Judge Mark Kouris warned attorneys for TikTok that it risks being found in contempt if it doesn’t respond by a newly set deadline.

“I do find that TikTok is in breach right now, and this is the way that they’ll obviously purge that contempt charge,” Kouris said, referring to newly set deadlines for the company to respond to Utah’s inquiry. “If that doesn’t happen, obviously, they’ll be fined a contempt citation.”

The state’s investigation started with a subpoena sent on Feb. 6, according to a legal filing, “seeking the production of documents and written responses to several investigative specifications.” 

The subpoena asked for 80 clarifications pertaining to TikTok’s business practices, and 55 separate requests for documents related to things like age verification, data collection, the company’s algorithm and content curation, beauty filters, hashtags, and challenges that deal with issues like suicide, eating disorders and criminal behavior, as well as community guidelines and TikTok’s relationship with the Chinese government.

On May 30, the state issued another administrative subpoena “containing specifications and document requests informed by the Division’s investigation to date.”

TikTok could not respond to the state’s initial deadline of June 19, and instead proposed a September deadline, according to Holyoak, who said the state has still not received answers to 12 questions.

“To date, the division has not received any specifications,” she told the judge on Wednesday. “We are just looking for a deadline. TikTok has not complied with our deadlines. They have not complied with the deadlines they have proposed. And so we hope that the court’s deadline would actually be respected.”

In response, TikTok’s attorney Phillip Bowman said the company “has been working on answering these questions, along with questions from many, many other state’s attorneys general,” noting that there’s “a lot of overlapping questions.”

Kouris didn’t appear to buy Bowman’s explanation, and cut him off.

“I’ve got a feeling that TikTok might have the resources to handle a bunch of these things, just a guess,” the judge said sarcastically. Bowman started to respond, before Kouris interrupted him again.

“Is that not true then? So what are they running, a mom and pop show, and the lawyers in the basement don’t have time to get to all of this stuff?” he asked.

“Those are in process. We never said we would complete those by any particular date,” Bowman said.

The judge gave TikTok two new deadlines — Nov. 3 for the first subpoena, and Dec. 1 for the second. He closed out the hearing warning TikTok that it will be fined if it does not comply.

TikTok has been in Utah’s crosshairs for much of the last year. During the 2023 legislative session, Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, sponsored SB152 which enacts the Utah Social Media Regulation Act, requiring a social media company to verify the age of a Utah resident before opening an account. For prospective users under 18 years old, the bill directs the social media company to obtain the consent of a parent or guardian before the account is live.

And HB311, sponsored by Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, during the 2023 session, prohibits social media companies from using a “design or feature that causes a minor to have an addiction to the company’s social media platform.”

Both bills passed with broad support in the House and Senate.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox had hinted that the state would sue TikTok. Although the subpoenas were issued in February and May, the state filed a lawsuit on Oct. 10, arguing that the company’s business practices are damaging to teens.

According to Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, the complaint alleges TikTok’s algorithm “intentionally creates an addiction that targets our kids,” which mimics “a cruel slot machine that hooks kids’ attention and does not let them go.”

He also accused TikTok of misleading the public about its connection to ByteDance, its Chinese parent company, claiming the company is “siphoning large amounts of personal data from our kids every time they use the platform.”