The EU opens a wide-ranging probe into TikTok

Steve Dent — Reporter

TikTok is in the EU’s crosshairs over potential Digital Services Act (DSA) breaches around the safety of minors and other matters. The formal proceedings will focus on addictive algorithms, the “rabbit hole effect,” age verification issues and default privacy settings. The European Commission is also probing ad transparency and data access for researchers, it said in a press release.

The probe is focusing on the privacy and safety of minors. The Commission will look at the potentially negative aspects of TikTok’s design and algorithms, including addictive behavior and “rabbit hole effects” that can lead to harmful content. The assessment aims to “counter potential risks for the exercise of the fundamental right to the person’s physical and mental well-being [and] the respect of the rights of the child,” the EC wrote.

As part of that, it’s also examining TikTok’s age verification tools that are supposed to prevent access by minors to inappropriate content. At the same time, it will force the social media site to ensure high levels of privacy, safety and security for minors with regard to default privacy settings — much as it did for Meta’s Instagram and Facebook.

Europe is also looking into TikTok compliance with DSA obligations to “provide a searchable and reliable repository for advertisements.” At the same time, it’s investigating suspected shortcomings in researcher access to TikTok’s publicly accessible data, as required by the DSA.

After the proceedings open, The Commission will continue to gather evidence. The procedure allows it to take further enforcement steps including interim measures and non-compliance decisions.

TikTok (and parent ByteDance) was already forced to make large changesfor EU users to meet the DSA by giving users the choice to not let algorithms power their For You Page (FYP). It also introduced new harmful content reporting options and dropped personalized ads for EU users aged 13 to 17.

The EU is already investigating TikTok, along with Meta, to determine what they’ve done to mitigate illegal content and misinformation related to the ongoing violence in the Middle East. In 2022, Meta was hit with a $414 million fine for requiring personalized ads. It’s rumored to be introducing a paid tier as a way to allow users to get rid of personalized ads — and TikTok may also be working on such a scheme. Civil rights groups are urging the EU to reject these plans, labelling them “pay for privacy.”


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