Social media platform TikTok is facing a potential storm in Europe, with a report suggesting the European Union (EU) is preparing an investigation into its practices regarding child safety.
This development comes amid growing concerns about the platform’s ability to protect younger users from harmful content and data privacy breaches.
Bloomberg reported Sunday (February 11), citing “people familiar with the matter,” that the European Commission is expected to launch a probe in the coming weeks under the bloc’s newly implemented Digital Services Act (DSA). Among other things, the new law allows regulators to take stricter action against tech giants for content moderation failures and potential risks to minors.
The investigation follows earlier actions taken by individual EU member states. In September, the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) hit TikTok with a €345 million (approx. $372 million) fine for violating regulations on children’s privacy. The Irish regulator found that the platform made user accounts public by default, including for users under 18, and failed to adequately address risks associated with children accessing the platform.
In response, TikTok has since made adjustments to strengthen younger users’ privacy.
“We believe our settings have always given users control over whether to choose a public or private account, but in January 2021 (eight months before the DPC launched its investigation), we became the first major platform to make all existing and new accounts for 13- to 15-year-olds private by default,” TikTok had said.
Beyond privacy concerns, the EU reportedly worries about the potential for exposure to harmful content on TikTok. Under the EU’s DSA, companies could be fined as much as 6% of their annual sales, or could even be banned from the EU for repeated infringements. TikTok, a privately held company owned by China-headquartered ByteDance, doesn’t make its financials publicly available, although the company is estimated to have recorded $9.4 billion in annual revenue in 2022.
A fine of 6% could translate to roughly $564 million for TikTok.
TikTok told Bloomberg that it is in “regular dialogue and hadn’t received anything from the commission about an investigation.”
The EU has already sent a number of requests for information to TikTok since it was tagged as a significant platform. Those requests include learning about what steps it has taken to protect minors and how its app is used by children.
The potential EU investigation into TikTok reflects the growing regulatory scrutiny faced by tech giants around the world. As social media platforms like TikTok continue to amass younger audiences, the pressure is mounting for them to prioritize child safety and data privacy, while ensuring responsible content moderation practices.
In addition to the latest potential probe, the EU has already opened an investigation into TikTok and YouTube in November to look into how these platforms ensure the safety of minors. Thierry Breton, the EU’s top tech enforcer, said in August that “child protection will be an enforcement priority” for the DSA. It is also investigating X, formerly known as Twitter, over illegal content, particularly in the wake of the October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas.
Less than a year ago, TikTok was fined £12.7 million ($16 million) in the UK by the country’s Information Commissioner’s Office for a number of data protection breaches including ‘misusing children’s data’.
The UK also ordered a ban on TikTok on government devices in the UK last year, as part of a wider app review.
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