TikTok faces complaints over consumer rights practices

16 Feb 2021

Image: © kovop58/Stock.adobe.com

Consumer rights group BEUC has levelled a series of complaints against the social media platform and is calling for a European investigation.

TikTok has been hit with complaints by a consumer rights group over alleged violations of EU consumer laws and how it protects child user data.

BEUC, a European organisation advocating for consumer protections, has filed a complaint with the European Commission and several national authorities against the social media giant, which is owned by China’s ByteDance.

The organisation claims that TikTik is violating European consumer law by not protecting minors on the app from hidden advertising and inappropriate content. It is calling for an investigation into the social media company’s practices.

“In just a few years, TikTok has become one of the most popular social media apps with millions of users across Europe,” Monique Goyens, director general of BEUC, said.

“But TikTok is letting its users down by breaching their rights on a massive scale. We have discovered a whole series of consumer rights infringements and therefore filed a complaint against TikTok.”

BEUC said TikTok has not made clear that branded hashtags on the platform, which may be used by children and teenagers, have been created for commercial purposes.

“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,” the organisation said.

BEUC’s complaints extend to TikTok’s practices for processing user data, which it claimed are misleading and do not make the policies clear for children and teenagers to understand. The organisation argues that this may be in breach of GDPR.

TikTok recently came under the authority of Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner after its Dublin office became responsible for privacy oversight in Europe.

“Children love TikTok but the company fails to keep them protected. We do not want our youngest ones to be exposed to pervasive hidden advertising and unknowingly turned into billboards when they are just trying to have fun,” Goyens said.

BEUC also takes umbrage with the wording of TikTok’s terms of service, which it said are “unclear, ambiguous and favour TikTok to the detriment of its users”. It also flagged wording in the terms regarding copyright, where TikTok is able to use and reproduce users’ content without giving compensation.

On TikTok, users can purchase virtual coins to gift to celebrities or other uses on the platform. The virtual item policy, BEUC said, gives TikTok “an absolute right to modify the exchange rate between the coins and the gifts, potentially skewing the financial transaction in its own favour”.

In response to the complaints, TikTok said it has contacted BEUC for a meeting to discuss these concerns.

Jonathan Keane is a freelance business and technology journalist based in Dublin