European Consumer Organization Takes TikTok to Task for How It Treats Its UsersFebruary 19, 2021
A European consumer rights group has filed a complaint that accused the popular short-video app TikTok of violating the rights of its users and exposing underage viewers to inappropriate material.
The complaint, filed to the European Commission Wednesday, jeopardizes TikTok’s standing in the 27-nation market, which supplies roughly one-seventh of the ByteDance Ltd.-owned app’s total users worldwide. It also puts the company at risk of being fined as much as 4% of its global annual sales under EU data protection rules.
In its complaint, the European Consumer Organization, an umbrella group of other consumer rights groups in Europe, accused the app of setting terms for its users that are “unclear, ambiguous and favour TikTok to the detriment of its users.” As an example, the complaint pointed to the app’s copyright terms that allow it to use, distribute and reproduce videos without paying users for their intellectual property.
“TikTok is letting its users down by breaching their rights on a massive scale,” Monique Goyens, director general of the European Consumer Organization, said in a statement Wednesday.
The complaint also accused TikTok of allowing voluminous commercial marketing and advertising content on the app, and failing to protect children from potentially harmful content, including “branded hashtag challenges,” though it did not give further details.
Hashtag challenges are activities, often publicized by companies as part of online marketing campaigns, in which users takes videos of themselves completing eye-catching but usually uncomfortable or difficult activities, such as having a bucket of ice water dumped on their head. The resulting video post is then marked with a specific hashtag that grows in popularity the more people take up the challenge. TikTok has been a popular place to post such videos. Some challenges, however, can be dangerous.
Earlier this month, Italian media reported that a 10-year-old girl in Italy died after apparently attempting to take part in a “blackout challenge” — in which people choked themselves until they passed out in order to achieve a sense of euphoria. Italian prosecutors have opened an investigation into the case, and there have been public calls for stronger regulation of social media.
A TikTok spokesperson told Caixin Wednesday that it was taking measures to better protect underage users, such as making its explanation of user privacy protections for teenagers more comprehensible and adjusting its settings so the accounts of children under the age of 16 are set to private by default. “Keeping the community safe, in particular young users, as well as complying with local laws and regulations, are responsibilities that we take extremely seriously,” the spokesperson said.
The Italian data protection authority, known as the Italian DPA, said in December that it is looking into TikTok’s “poor attention to the protection of children, easy-to-circumvent…