HomeLatest UpdatesEurope announces launch of formal probe into TikTok under digital rights law

Europe announces launch of formal probe into TikTok under digital rights law

The European Commission is investigating TikTok for violating Europe’s landmark Digital Services Act (DSA) through its alleged addictive design, lack of age verification, privacy shortcomings and other potential violations, the commission announced Monday.

Investigators will examine whether the social media app violated the DSA by failing to protect minors, creating advertising policies that lacked transparency, failing to give researchers access to data and inadequately addressing risks posed by its product design and “harmful content.”

TikTok’s algorithms appear to create “rabbit hole effects” for users, according to the commission, which is the executive arm of the EU. The commission wants to look at the company’s “assessment and mitigation of systemic risks,” and how it handles “actual or foreseeable negative effects.”

Investigators also will explore how TikTok manages its child protections and whether its age verification processes — meant to stop minors from accessing harmful content — are effective..

In terms of TikTok’s advertising policies, the commission said it will investigate whether the platform provided a “searchable and reliable repository” for academics and other researchers to access.

A TikTok spokesperson said in a statement that the company has “pioneered features and settings to protect teens” and keep children under 13 off the platform, adding that those are “issues the whole industry is grappling with.”

The company plans to “work with experts and industry to keep young people on TikTok safe, and look forward to now having the opportunity to explain this work in detail to the Commission,” the spokesperson said.

The DSA, which became effective in August 2023, is focused on holding tech behemoths like Google, Meta, Amazon, TikTok and other very large platforms accountable for the content they host and how they mitigate risks. The DSA is especially concerned with child safety and privacy online as well as stopping the tide of disinformation appearing on the platforms.

Under the law, tech giants can be fined up to 6% of their global annual revenue if they don’t comply and even potentially be banned from the European marketplace.

Because TikTok is designated as a Very Large Online Platform (VLOP) under the DSA due to its 135.9 million monthly active users in Europe, it is required to comply with several detailed provisions of the law.

This investigation announced Monday is just the latest commission action against TikTok. In October, it sent Meta and TikTok letters seeking details on how the platforms were controlling disinformation centered on the Israel-Hamas war. In TikTok’s case, the commission also asked for information on how the platform protects children online.

The investigation into TikTok centers on a “suspected breach of transparency and obligations to protect minors,” European Commission for Internal Market Thierry Breton said in a social media post Monday.

The commission said in a press release that after the formal opening of proceedings, it will continue to gather evidence by requesting more information from the platform, holding interviews or undertaking inspections.

If TikTok remains out of compliance, the commission can further penalize the platform, but it noted in a press release that it is also “empowered to accept any commitment made by TikTok to remedy on the matters subject to the proceeding.”

There is no deadline for ending the investigation, the commission said, noting that the length of an investigation as sprawling as this one is based on many factors, including how much the targeted company cooperates with authorities and the “complexity” of the allegations.

“The protection of minors is a top enforcement priority for the DSA,” Breton said in a statement. “As a platform that reaches millions of children and teenagers, TikTok must fully comply with the DSA and has a particular role to play in the protection of minors online.”

He added that the commission is launching its investigation to “ensure that proportionate action is taken to protect the physical and emotional well-being of young Europeans. We must spare no effort to protect our children.”

Editor’s note: Updated 12:45 p.m. Eastern on February 20 with statement from TikTok.

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