TikTok hit with European regulatory complaints over child safety, data privacy

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European consumer groups filed complaints Tuesday against popular video-sharing app TikTok, alleging it breaches European Union consumer rights and fails to protect children from hidden advertising and inappropriate content. 

The European Consumer Organization BEUC filed the complaints with the European Commission, and consumer organizations in 15 countries have alerted their authorities and urged investigations into TikTok’s conduct, according to the group. 

The complaint also targets the Chinese-owned app’s processing of user data, a concern that U.S. lawmakers have also raised. 

“In just a few years, TikTok has become one of the most popular social media apps with millions of users across Europe. But TikTok is letting its users down by breaching their rights on a massive scale. We have discovered a whole series of consumer rights infringements and therefore filed a complaint against TikTok,” Monique Goyens, director general of BEUC, said in a statement. 

The complaint alleges aspects of TikTok’s terms of service are “unclear, ambiguous and favour TikTok to the detriment of its users,” and unfairly give TikTok the “irrevocable right to use, distribute and reproduce the videos published by users, without remuneration.”

The complaint specifically calls out TikTok’s handling of content that is reaching some of its younger user base. It alleges that TikTok “fails to protect children and teenagers from hidden advertising and potentially harmful content on its platform.” For example, the complaint calls out the use of branded hashtag challenges where users are “encouraged to create content of specific products.” 

“TikTok is also potentially failing to conduct due diligence when it comes to protecting children from inappropriate content such as videos showing suggestive content which are just a few scrolls away,” the BEUC said. 

On processing data privacy, the complaint describes TikTok’s practices as “misleading.” The BEUC said the platform doesn’t clearly inform users “especially in a way comprehensible to children and teenagers,” about what data is collected and for what purpose. 

A TikTok spokesperson said the company welcomes a meeting with the BEUC to “listen to their concerns” and is open to hearing how it can improve. 

“Keeping our community safe, especially our younger users, and complying with the laws where we operate are responsibilities we take incredibly seriously. Every day we work hard to protect our community which is why we have taken a range of major steps, including making all accounts belonging to users under 16 private by default,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “We’ve also developed an in-app summary of our Privacy Policy with vocabulary and a tone of voice that makes it easier for teens to understand our approach to privacy. “

Europe has stricter regulations in place surrounding data privacy compared to the U.S. Under the General Data Protection Regulation law, which was implemented in 2018, companies are required to state what data is collected and for what purpose. 

U.S. lawmakers have similarly raised concerns over potential risks posed by data collection. Former President Trump sought to overhaul how TikTok operated in the U.S., but the deal was left unfinished before he left office. 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed last week that the deal is still under consideration by the Biden administration as it weighs any potential risks. 

“Broadly speaking, we are comprehensively evaluating … risks to U.S. data including from TikTok and will address them in a decisive and effective fashion,” she said. 

TikTok has denied allegations that the platform poses a threat to national security.

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