EU opens probe into ‘toxic’ TikTok Lite and addiction concerns – Business

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ByteDance Ltd.-owned TikTok is looking at a possible large fine and a forced suspension in Europe after the European Commission today opened formal proceedings against the app under the Digital Services Act, DSA.

These are tough days for the Chinese app, which is currently fighting a ban in the U.S. over national security concerns. In the EU, the European Commissioner Thierry Breton said the “Lite” version of the app, recently launched in France and Spain, could be “as addictive as cigarettes” and so in breach of DSA regulations relating to protecting young people.

The Commission said the problem is with TikTok’s “Task and Reward Program,” a typical enticement program in which users can earn points from watching videos, following creators, or inviting friends to join the app. The rewards might include Amazon vouchers, gift cards through PayPal, or TikTok Coins.

“This is of particular concern for children, given the suspected absence of effective age verification mechanisms on TikTok,” said the Commission. “The lack of effective age verification mechanisms and the suspected addictive design of the platforms are already under investigation in the first formal proceedings against TikTok.”

In 2023, the European Union hit TikTok with a $350 million fine over privacy concerns. Two months ago, the beleaguered app was told another probe was being undertaken in the EU, designed to ascertain if the app was unnecessarily addictive. EU lawmakers said TikTok’s  “algorithmic systems” could create “rabbit holes” in which young people would be psychologically manipulated into entering and staying for long periods of time.

TikTok joins a list of social media applications that have been accused of such manipulation. For a long time now, apps such as Meta Platforms Inc.’s Facebook and Instagram have also come under the gun for what appears to be negative effects on children’s behavior. In January, a Senate Judiciary Committee grilled a number of social media companies over various harms their apps pose to children.

In Europe, Breton went as far as to call TikTok Lite “toxic,” saying the app is “sparing no effort to protect” young people. He added, “Endless streams of short and fast-paced videos could be seen as fun, but also expose our children to risks of addiction, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, low attention spans.”

TikTok has until Wednesday to bring arguments to the EU regarding the accusations. If it cannot dampen concerns, DSA enforcement will be triggered and the suspension could happen shortly after, as well as fines.

“We are disappointed with this decision – the TikTok Lite rewards hub is not available to under-18s, and there is a daily limit on video watch tasks,” TikTok said in response. “We will continue discussions with the commission.”

Photo: Freepik


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