Hyundai and Kia Sued for "Being Too Easy to Steal"

Alan Cai

May 19, 2023

Korean automobile manufacturers, Kia and Hyundai, have settled for $200 million in a suit alleging that their automobiles were too easily stolen. The class action lawsuit outlined how influencers on Tiktok, a popular social media platform owned by Chinese conglomerate Bytedance, outlined ways to commit grand theft on vehicles sold by the two companies between 2015 and 2019.

Hyundai and Kia are separate companies but the former does own a minority stake, 33.88% currently valued at around $6 billion USD, in the latter. Kia additionally owns minority portions of Hyundai subsidiaries, totaling over $8 billion USD. The two companies are the two largest vehicle manufacturers in South Korea and are among the leading industry members around the globe.

The lawsuit alleged various security inadequacies or outdated practices which made the vehicles easier to steal. Specific places of contention include less-advanced ignition switches and a lack of engine immobilizers, both of which increase the likelihood of the vehicles being stolen.

TikTok users have spread various methods for stealing specific models of the two brands, including the Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Forte. In total, over 9 million customers are eligible for stolen vehicle compensation. For reference, Kia sold under 3 million vehicles globally in 2019.

The lawsuit, led by Attorneys General from 17 states and the District of Columbia and spearheaded by California Attorney General Rob Bonta, allows for up to $6125 per vehicle completely lost and up to $3375 per damaged vehicle. The class action suit allocates $145 million for vehicle damages. The Brutus Journal has reached out to the office of the Attorney General of California for where the remaining $55 million in awarded damages is directed and has yet to receive a response.

The issue of contention lies primarily in the failure of the two motor companies to address security shortcomings rather than their mere existence. However, having outdated security features is not viable grounds for which Kia and Hyundai should be convicted. Civil suits(including class action suits) require a “preponderance of the evidence” for conviction which means that plaintiffs are burdened with proving that defendants are more likely than not to have been responsible for the harm the former suffered.

In another era, the criminals would be held accountable for theft and TikTok would undergo intense litigation for allowing such promotion for illicit activity to occur on its platform. However, in the age of Section 230 and the legal immunity encompassing all internet platforms for content on their service, the car manufacturer is the one who is forced to pay the damages. The current judicial standard for the extent of free speech is “imminent lawless action” or the doctrine that individuals are allowed to express themselves so long as such an expression does not imminently encourage lawless behavior. Encouraging the over 1 billion TikTok users worldwide to steal cars is almost a perfect instance of the imminent lawless action test.

In order to counteract the tremendous power companies such as TikTok wield and their ability to legally host illicit content on their platform, we must look to larger hardware providers such as Apple to refuse the continuation of the aforementioned atrocious entities on their products.