The EU has given video-sharing app TikTok one month to respond to extensive reports of consumer rights breaches, with multiple groups lodging complaints against the global phenomenon.
The majority of the complaints center around hidden advertising and inappropriate content targeting children as the Chinese-owned app struggles to contend with the number of underage users accessing the service.
EU Opens “Formal Dialogue” With TikTok
On Friday, 28 May 2021, the European Commission revealed that it was conversing with TikTok directly regarding its practices regarding advertising, content, and vulnerable users.
Didier Reynders, EU Commissioner for Justice, said:
The current pandemic has further accelerated digitalisation. This has brought new opportunities but it has also created new risks, in particular for vulnerable consumers. In the European Union, it is prohibited to target children and minors with disguised advertising such as banners in videos. The dialogue we are launching today should support TikTok in complying with EU rules to protect consumers
The investigation comes after the European Consumer Organisation, BEUC, filed a complaint against TikTok for breaching multiple EU consumer rights laws, potentially failing to protect children and vulnerable users from dangerous and misleading content in the process.
Much of the complaint centers on four key issues:
- TikTok’s Terms of Service are unfair: the complaint contends that TikTok’s ToS are “unclear, ambiguous and favour TikTok to the detriment of its user.”
- TikTok’s Virtual Item Policy: Similarly, the services Virtual Item Policy also contains misleading language and unfair terms.
- TikTok fails to protect children and teenagers: TikTok’s marketing policies allow companies to advertise potentially harmful products and content, exposing potentially vulnerable users to dangerous content. Particularly of note is TikTok’s management of hashtags, which the complaint alleges that TikTok fails “to conduct due diligence when it comes to protecting children.”
- TikTok’s management of personal data: Linking to the first issue regarding the ToS, TikTok’s collection and management of personal data is unclear, especially regarding children and teenagers.
Monique Goyens, Director General of The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), said:
Children love TikTok but the company fails to keep them protected. We do not want our youngest ones to be exposed to pervasive hidden advertising and unknowingly turned into billboards when they are just trying to have fun.
EU Investigation Gives TikTok One Month to Respond
Although the language used in the European Commission statement calls for a formal dialog, it is important to note that this a step short of a formal investigation into the video-sharing service. Now that a dialog is open between the EU and TikTok, both parties will hope to resolve these important issues without resorting to more intrusive actions.