TikTok hit with complaints over alleged breaches of EU law

TikTok has been hit with barrage complaints in Europe over alleged breaches of EU law regarding the protection of children from hidden advertising and harmful content, unfair terms of service, and misleading data processing.

The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) has filed a complaint against TikTok with the European Commission and the various consumer protection authorities across the EU, while consumer organisations in 15 countries have urged their national authorities to investigate the video sharing platform.

The BEUC believes that TikTok fails to protect its young users from hidden advertising and potentially harmful content, mainly highlighting the app’s branded hashtag challenges. These ‘challenges’ encourage users to create content related to specific products and are often set in motion via partnerships with influencers. The organisation also points to the ease of which users can stumble across inappropriate content while scrolling the app.

On TikTok’s ‘Terms of Service’, the BEUC says that some of the app’s terms are ‘unclear and ambiguous’, while being unfair to users. This unfairness extends to TikTok’s copyright terms, which allow the platform to use, distribute, and reproduce user content without any form of remuneration.

These ‘unfair’ terms are alleged to extend to TikTok’s ‘Virtual Item Policy’. The ‘Virtual Item’ feature enables users to purchase coins to use for virtual gifts to show their appreciation to people on livestreams. However, the BEUC claims that the feature contains “unfair terms and misleading practices”, especially around the fact that TikTok has given itself the right to modify the exchange rate between the coins and the gifts.

Finally, the BEUC takes issue with TikTok’s practices around the processing of personal data. The organisation believes that TikTok doesn’t make it clear what personal data it is collecting and does not provide any purpose or legal reasoning either. The BEUC has filed this particular part of its complaint as being a possible breach of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

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

“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.

“Together with our members – consumer groups from across Europe – we urge authorities to take swift action. They must act now to make sure TikTok is a place where consumers, especially children, can enjoy themselves without being deprived of their rights.”