EU to review TikTok’s terms of service after child safety complaints – TechCrunch


TikTok has one month to respond to concerns raised by EU consumer protection agencies earlier this year, EU lawmakers said today.

The Commission launched what it called a “formal dialogue” with the video-sharing platform on its trade practices and policy.

Specific areas of concern include covert marketing, aggressive advertising techniques targeting children, and certain contract terms of TikTok’s policies that could be viewed as misleading and confusing to consumers, according to the Commission.

Commenting in a statement, Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders added: “The current pandemic has further accelerated digitization. This created new opportunities, but also created new risks, especially for vulnerable consumers. In the European Union, it is prohibited to target children and minors with disguised advertisements such as banners in videos. The dialogue we are launching today should help TikTok comply with EU rules to protect consumers. “

The background is that in February, the European Consumers’ Organization (BEUC) sent the Commission a report denouncing a number of TikTok’s policies and practices – including what it called unfair terms and practices. in copyright matters. He also pointed out the risk of children being exposed to inappropriate content on the platform and accused TikTok of deceptive data processing and privacy practices.

Complaints were lodged around the same time by consumer organizations in 15 EU countries, urging those national authorities to investigate the conduct of the social media giant.

The multi-pronged EU action means TikTok not only reviews the details of its fine print through TikTok, but also faces questions from a network of national consumer protection authorities – who is co-led by the Swedish Consumer and Irish Competition Agency and Consumer Protection Commission (which handles privacy issues related to the platform).

However, BEUC asked why the Commission had not yet launched a formal enforcement procedure.

We hope that the authorities will stick to their guns in this “dialogue” which, in our opinion, is not yet the official launch of an execution procedure. It should lead to good results for consumers, addressing all the points raised by BEUC. BEUC also hopes to be consulted before an agreement is reached, ”a spokesperson for the organization told us.

Also attached for comment, TikTok sent us this statement on the Commission’s action, attributed to its Director of Public Policy, Caroline Greer:

As part of our ongoing engagement with regulators and other external stakeholders on issues such as consumer protection and transparency, we engage in dialogue with the Irish Consumer Protection Commission and the Swedish Consumer Agency and look forward to discussing the measures we have already introduced. . In addition, we have taken a number of steps to protect our young users, including making all accounts under the age of 16 private by default and disabling their direct messaging access. Additionally, users under the age of 18 cannot purchase, send or receive virtual gifts, and we have strict policies prohibiting advertising that directly appeals to people under the digital consent age.

The company told us that it uses age verification for personalized ads – indicating that users must have verified that they are 13 or older to receive these ads; as well as having passed the digital consent age in their respective EU country; and also have consented to receive targeted advertising.

However, TikTok’s age verification technology has been criticized as weak before – and recent emergency enforcement measures focused on child safety from the Italian national data protection agency have led TikTok to commit to strengthening its age verification processes in the country.

The Italian crackdown also allowed TikTok to remove more than 500,000 accounts suspected of belonging to users under the age of 13 earlier this month – raising further questions as to whether it can really claim that those under 13 are not systematically exposed to targeted advertising on its platform. .

In other substantive remarks it sent us, TikTok claimed it has clear labeling of sponsored content. But he also noted that he had made recent changes – such as changing the label he applies to video advertising from “sponsored” to “ad” to make it clearer.

He also said he’s working on a toggle that aims to make it more clear to users when they may be exposed to advertising by other users by allowing those latter users to prominently disclose that their content contains advertising.

TikTok said the tool is currently in beta testing in Europe, but said it plans to go into general availability this summer and will also change its terms of service to require users to use this toggle every time. once their content contains advertising. (But without proper enforcement, this could end up becoming another overlooked and easily abused framework.)

The company recently announced the establishment of a Transparency Center in Europe to address some of the concerns raised about its business in the region, as well as to prepare it for the heightened surveillance that is coming across all platforms. -digital forms in operation. in the EU – as the bloc struggles to update its digital rulebook.

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