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"TikTok" under EU scrutiny: Protecting young people with disabilities

2024-02-21 10:14:00, Kosova & Bota CNA
"TikTok" under EU scrutiny: Protecting young people with disabilities
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Since last summer, the Chinese company TikTok and other major online platforms have had to comply with the EU's Digital Services Act (DSA). As early as two months ago, the EU Commission, as the authority responsible for supervision, expressed doubts towards large internet concerns and that "TikTok" does not respect these rather rigorous norms, compared to the international level. Preliminary investigations have started meanwhile and "TikTok" was positioned. But according to the opinion of the EU Commission, the explanations provided by "TikTok" have been insufficient.

For this reason, the commissioner responsible for Industrial policy, Thierry Breton, communicated through the "X" platform that he has officially started a procedure against "TikTok". If the EU authority finds a violation, hefty fines threaten. The fine can reach up to five percent of TikTok's daily turnover. But it is not known how much the turnover of "TikTok" is currently, because this platform does not make its business figures public.

But it is not only "TikTok" under the EU Commission's magnifying glass, while since December a process against the "X" platform continues due to suspicions of spreading false information and hate-based content. Preliminary investigations are also being conducted against other platforms on the network. The process against TikTok could take months. The video platform, which reportedly has around 142 million monthly users in Europe, could challenge the EU reviewers' decisions in court. Worldwide, over a billion people use TikTok every month.

Lack of protection of young people?

The EU Commissioner, Thierry Breton, accuses "TikTok" of not sufficiently respecting the protection of young people. Young people under 16 should only be able to use TikTok with restrictions. Young people and children under 13 should only be allowed to use a limited version. Age verification is insufficient, because "TikTok" when opening an account on it, bases the age question on self-declaration, without asking for the relevant verifications. But this is not only a specific problem of "TikTok", other media of the Meta concern, "X" or pornography sites act similarly. "TikTok" admits on its website that this depends on the sincerity of the users.

For customers under 16, the service limits the duration of daily use to one hour. But this restriction can be lifted with just a few clicks. The EU's Digital Services Act (DAS) prohibits personalized advertising to people under 16. Even this is difficult to respect when there is no age verification, think the verifiers of the EU Commission.

Is "TikTok" addictive?

The EU Commission also expresses concern that TikTok's algorithm imposes an endless stream of videos on users, following all their personal preferences. This "lure" in the app can turn into an uncontrollable addiction for TikTok users. TikTok denies this, saying the algorithm complies with DSA norms and can be disabled. But the deactivation option in the app menu is hidden and can be reached after many clicks. This hard-to-find regulator and options is not just a problem for TikTok. Media researchers have been finding for years that "TikTok", which is used intensively by young people under the age of 25, has a great potential to turn users into a vice. "There are many aspects that give rise to believe that a design alone of 'TikTok' and other platforms can promote addiction to the application," said internet expert Julian Jarusch from the "New Responsibility" foundation on "ZDF" television. . "Gathering evidence to prove that this is true or not is no easy task for the EU Commission."

TikTok appreciates the clarification

A spokesperson for "TikTok" explained that the firm, which belongs to the Chinese concern Bytedance, will further commit to improving the protection of young people. "We will continue to work with experts and the industry to make TikTok more secure. We are glad that we now have the opportunity to explain this in detail to the EU Commission." In addition to protecting young people, the EU Commission wants to receive a list of all advertising clients. Access to the data of "TikTok" should also be guaranteed for researchers, as defined in the law on digital services.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew was in Brussels in January to EU commissioners to address their reservations about the short-form video platform. The CEO of "TikTok" who comes from Singapore answered detailed questions during an interview in the US Senate. The MPs mainly expressed the concern that "TikTok" passes the user data to the parent concern or that the platform can be considered as a spy software. In a wave of similar interviews in 2023, the head of "TikTok" admitted that he would not allow his children (then aged six and eight) to use this platform. In Singapore, where his children live, there is no age limit to access the booming platform.

In Germany, "TikTok" attracted a lot of attention in recent weeks, because the right-wing nationalist party "AfD" is much more successful on the platform than its competitors./ DW 

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