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EU Launches Probe Into TikTok Over Child Protection Compliance

The EU launched on Monday an official investigation against TikTok for suspected violations of its duty to safeguard kids online, as part of a major new rule on digital content enforcement. It is the second investigation into a major online platform since Brussels passed the Digital Services Act (DSA), which targeted tech tycoon Elon Musk’s X in December.

Brussels is particularly worried that the video-sharing app controlled by China’s ByteDance is not doing enough to address the detrimental effects on young people.

A major concern is the so-called “rabbit hole” effect, which happens when users are served similar information based on an algorithm, sometimes leading to more harmful content.

The European Commission’s concerns also include TikTok’s age verification tools, which it said “may not be reasonable, proportionate and effective”.

The commission opened “formal proceedings to assess whether TikTok may have breached” the DSA in other areas including “advertising transparency” and “data access for researchers”.

Following an analysis of a risk assessment report by TikTok and its responses to Brussels’ demands for more details about the steps the video-sharing platform has taken to prevent unlawful material, safeguard minors, and grant access to data, the action was taken.

“Spare no effort.”

The commission stated that regulators would continue to gather information, and that the measure gives them the authority to conduct additional enforcement actions if needed.

“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,” said Thierry Breton, the EU’s internal market commissioner.

“We are launching this formal infringement proceeding today 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,” Breton added.

TikTok has over 142 million monthly users across the EU, up from 125 million last year.

“TikTok needs to take a close look at the services they offer and carefully consider the risks that they pose to their users — young as well as old,” commission executive vice president Margrethe Vestager said.

The formal probe will focus on four areas: how TikTok analyzes and mitigates systemic risks; how the firm protects minors’ privacy and safety; TikTok’s efforts to provide a “reliable” advertisement repository; and the initiatives taken to boost transparency.

TikTok announced that it was striving to safeguard kids online.

“TikTok has pioneered features and settings to protect teens and keep under 13s off the platform, issues the whole industry is grappling with,” according to a spokeswoman for TikTok.

“We’ll continue 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.”

Risk of penalties

As far as the proceedings are concerned, there is no duration limit.

The DSA gives Brussels the power to levy heavy fines, with penalties for violations that can include fines going up to six percent of a digital firm’s global revenues.

The commission can even block platforms in the 27-nation bloc for serious and repeated violations.

The EU law came into effect last year for the world’s biggest online platforms including TikTok and X as well as Facebook and Instagram.

The new rules demand companies do more to police content online, but also expect digital retailers to act swiftly and effectively to protect shoppers online.

Since February 17, the DSA law has been in effect across all platforms.

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