European Consumer Organisation files complaint against TikTok for multiple EU law breaches

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TikTok is in the spotlight again for all the wrong reasons, as the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) filed several complaints against the short format video platform for breaching EU laws.

Along with the BEUC, 17 different consumer groups from 15 countries across the region have urged their respective national agencies to further investigate TikTok over its conduct.

More specifically, they wish to look into myriad aspects regarding its privacy policies, including user agreement terms that are viewed as unfair, as well as how the platform handles copyright, along with the content that underage users may be exposed to on the platform.

  • Several terms in TikTok’s ‘Terms of Service’ are unfair: They are unclear, ambiguous and favour TikTok to the detriment of its users. Its copyright terms are equally unfair as they give TikTok an irrevocable right to use, distribute and reproduce the videos published by users, without remuneration.

  • One popular feature of TikTok is that users can purchase coins which they use for virtual gifts for TikTok celebrities whose performance they like. TikTok’s ‘Virtual Item Policy’ which manages this feature contains unfair terms and misleading practices. TikTok claims for instance an absolute right to modify the exchange rate between the coins and the gifts, potentially skewing the financial transaction in its own favour.

  • TikTok fails to protect children and teenagers from hidden advertising and potentially harmful content on its platform. TikTok’s marketing offers to companies who want to advertise on the app contributes to the proliferation of hidden marketing. Users are for instance triggered to participate in branded hashtag challenges where they are encouraged to create content of specific products. As popular influencers are often the starting point of such challenges the commercial intent is usually masked for users. 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.

  • TikTok’s practices for the processing of users’ personal data are misleading. TikTok does not clearly inform its users, especially in a way comprehensible to children and teenagers, about what personal data is collected, for what purpose and for what legal reason. This information is, however, essential for consumers when using Tik Tok’s services. We consider that some of these, as well as other [4], practices are potentially in breach of the General Data Protection Regulation and have brought them to the attention of Data Protection Authorities in the context of their ongoing investigations into the company,” the BEUC’s filing outlines.

This is not the first time that concerns about TikTok have been raised, and with the platform’s popularity continuing to grow, it will fall under even greater scrutiny, like Facebook, YouTube and other massive tech platforms have before it.

At this stage, however, it remains to be seen how these complaints will be investigated, and indeed whether any action can be taking against a platform as popular as TikTok.

We have already seen India ban its use due to political tensions with China, and the United States under Trump demanding a sale of the company to a US entity over alleged ties to the Chinese government, but both instances were politically motivated.

The complaints outlined above are based on existing EU law, which means that TikTok may need to fall in line if it plans to operate in the region.

For now though, TikTok believes it has acted in accordance with EU law, but is open to engaging with the BEUC regarding its concerns.

“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,” an unnamed spokesperson told TechCrunch.

“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. We’re always open to hearing how we can improve, and we have contacted BEUC as we would welcome a meeting to listen to their concerns,” they added.

Whether this is all simply to placate an outraged BEUC, however, remains to be seen.

[Image – Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash]

Robin-Leigh Chetty

Robin-Leigh Chetty

When he's not reviewing the latest smartphones, Robin-Leigh is writing about everything tech-related from IoT and smart cities, to 5G and cloud computing. He's also a keen photographer and dabbles in console games.

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