Is TikTok Safe for Kids? European Commission Investigating Violations of Child Protection Laws

  • Save

  • Save
Brussels’ Berlaymont building, which serves as the European Commission’s headquarters. Photo Credit: EmDee

Is TikTok really safe for kids? Not according to the European Union’s European Commission, which has given TikTok one month to respond to charges of violating child-protection laws.

TikTok is notorious for its younger-leaning demographic, though the question over whether the platform is safe for kids received new scrutiny this week. Officials with the European Commission (the EU’s executive branch) announced today that they’d formally informed TikTok and its ByteDance parent company of the one-month response deadline. The overarching inquiry stemmed from a February of 2021 complaint filed by the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), which receives funding from the European Union.

In this complaint, the BEUC alleged “that TikTok falls foul of multiple breaches of EU consumer rights and fails to protect children from hidden advertising and inappropriate content.” The entity also outlined specific qualms including “unclear, ambiguous” portions of the short-form video app’s terms of service, which purportedly “favour TikTok to the detriment of its users.”

Additionally, the group (consisting of 46 European consumer organizations) took aim at the platform’s ToS with regard to their “equally unfair” copyright clauses, which allegedly “give TikTok an irrevocable right to use, distribute and reproduce the videos published by users, without remuneration.”

Moreover, the ByteDance-owned service’s “Virtual Item Policy” – or that which governs the in-app purchase of “coins,” which are then used to send “virtual gifts” to other users – allegedly “contains unfair terms and misleading practices,” like the “absolute right to modify the exchange rate between the coins and the gifts, potentially skewing the financial transaction in its [TikTok’s] own favour,” according to the text.

And on the child-protection front, the BEUC indicated that “branded hashtag challenges,” because they often begin with “popular influencers,” are “usually masked” in terms of their “commercial intent,” with the purported “hidden advertising” having a particular impact upon children and teens.

“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,” wrote the organization.

“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,” concluded the BEUC.

Now, as initially mentioned, the European Commission – which accused Apple of distorting “competition in the music market” in late April – has given TikTok and ByteDance one month to respond to the charges.

As part of the EU division’s “formal dialogue with TikTok to review its commercial practices and policy,” the app’s higher-ups have “a month to reply and engage with the Commission and CPC authorities.”

The European Commission’s commissioner for justice, Didier Reynders, addressed the TikTok investigation in a statement, relaying: “In the European Union, it is prohibited to target children and minors with disguised advertising such as banners in videos. The dialogue we are launching today should support TikTok in complying with EU rules to protect consumers.”

About 40 days back, TikTok – which is fighting off multiple patent infringement suits – was named in a $1 billion child-privacy lawsuit from former children’s commissioner for England Anne Longfield. The controversial app, which some have described as spyware, is also facing a high-profile child-privacy complaint in Illinois.