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European Union acts tough, tells China’s TikTok to play by rules that protect children

European authorities had found that the social media platform was failing to protect children from hidden advertising and inappropriate content

China-owned app TikTok app has committed to align its practices with the European Union rules on advertising and consumer protection, namely, the Unfair commercial practices Directive, the Consumer rights Directive and the Unfair contract terms Directive.

The decision follows extensive dialogues with the European Commission and the network of national Consumer Protection Cooperation (CPC) authorities which first originated from a complaint of the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC).

In February 2021, BEUC raised the alarm regarding certain problematic practices of TikTok allegedly breaching EU consumer rules. For instance, BEUC had found that the social media platform was failing to protect children from hidden advertising and inappropriate content. Following the complaint, the European Commission, together with the CPC, and led by the Irish and Swedish consumer authorities, launched a dialogue with TikTok.

The series of concerns have now been addressed and TikTok committed to change its practices, the EU said in a statement on Tuesday.

"All social media platforms are required to play by the rules and make sure that consumers can easily identify commercial content, including when promoted by influencers… Despite today's commitment, we will continue to monitor the situation in the future, paying particular attention to the effects on young users," said Didier Reynders, Commissioner for Justice.

Under the new commitments, users can now report advertisements and offers that could potentially push or trick children into purchasing goods or services; Branded content now abides by a policy protecting users, which prohibits the promotion of inappropriate products and services, such as alcohol, “get rich quick” schemes and cigarettes and users are prompted to switch on a toggle when they publish content captioned with specific brand-related keywords such as #ad or #sponsored.

Also, if a user has more than 10,000 followers, their videos are reviewed by TikTok against its Branded Content Policy and Community Guidelines to ensure that the content is appropriate. Paid advertisement in videos will also be identified with a new label, which will be tested for effectiveness by a third party.

CPC authorities will, in particular, monitor and assess compliance where concerns remain, such as whether there is sufficient clarity around children's understanding of the commercial aspects of TikTok's practices. For example, for what concerns personalised advertising, in light of the recently published “5 key principles of fair advertising to children”

Last week, BuzzFeed News reported that leaked audio from 80 internal TikTok meetings showed that the United States' user data has been repeatedly accessed from China.

"China-based employees of ByteDance have repeatedly accessed nonpublic data about US TikTok users — exactly the type of behaviour that inspired former president Donald Trump to threaten to ban the app in the United States," the report mentioned.

Worried about the raging concerns on aspects relating to data security and safeguarding the privacy of its 130 crore citizens, India has already blocked dozens of China-owned apps, including TikTok.

"This move will safeguard the interests of crores of Indian mobile and internet users. This decision is a targeted move to ensure safety and sovereignty of Indian cyberspace," the Ministry of Information Technology had said two years ago.

Also Read: TikTok accused of violating open-source license: Report