The European Commission has initiated a formal probe into TikTok, encompassing various concerns such as safeguarding minors and the potentially addictive nature of its design.

The investigation intends to scrutinise whether the company is adhering to its responsibilities outlined in the Digital Services Act regarding assessing and mitigating systemic risks. Specifically, it aims to assess whether TikTok algorithms contribute to behavioural addictions or foster what’s known as “rabbit hole effects.”

Additionally, the investigation will evaluate the effectiveness of TikTok’s age verification tools to prevent minors from accessing inappropriate content, assessing whether these measures are reasonable, proportionate, and efficient.

Young girls on TikTok
Recording video on smartphone of two teenage girls dancing for posting in internet Modern communication social media and gadgets

Simultaneously, the investigation will analyse whether the company has implemented “appropriate and proportionate” measures to guarantee minors a high standard of privacy, safety, and security.

It will focus on evaluating the default privacy settings for minors within the recommender systems as a vital aspect of this examination.

“The protection of minors is a top enforcement priority for the DSA. As a platform that reaches millions of children and teenagers, TikTok must fully comply with the DSA and has a particular role to play in the protection of minors online,” said commissioner for internal market Thierry Breton.

“We are launching this formal infringement proceeding today to ensure that proportionate action is taken to protect the physical and emotional well-being of young Europeans”, he added.

The investigation will additionally assess whether the company is fulfilling its obligations under the Digital Services Act (DSA) to furnish a searchable and dependable repository for advertisements featured on the platform.

Furthermore, it will examine the measures undertaken by the company to enhance the transparency of its platform.

This scrutiny is especially pertinent given suspicions regarding the company’s alleged inadequacies in granting researchers access to its publicly available data.

During the preceding summer, the EU issued a warning to the company, indicating that it needed to improve its practices following a “stress test” that uncovered deficiencies in its procedures.

The drawbacks of the short-form video hosting app for minors.

Amnesty International has welcomed the investigation, echoing concerns it raised in November, where it cautioned that TikTok’s platform was potentially steering children towards depressive and suicidal content, exacerbating any pre-existing mental health difficulties.

“The mental health consequences being inflicted on children and young people by the social media giant remain a longstanding concern. In 2023, Amnesty International’s research showed that TikTok can draw children’s accounts into dangerous rabbit holes of content that romanticizes self-harm and suicide within an hour of signing up on the platform,” said Damini Satija, program director at Amnesty Tech.

kids watching TikTok

“Children and young people also felt their TikTok use affected their schoolwork and social time with friends and led them to scroll through their feeds late at night instead of catching enough sleep.” She added.

The probe does not have a formal timescale outlined by the commission. Instead, it will persist in gathering evidence through various means such as sending additional requests for information and conducting interviews or inspections.

Margrethe Vestager, the executive vice president for the European Commission program A Europe fit for the digital age, said in a statement, ” TikTok must thoroughly evaluate the services it provides and conscientiously assess the risks they present to users of all ages,”. She also added, “The Commission will conduct a comprehensive investigation, maintaining impartiality until the conclusion is reached.”

“TikTok has pioneered features and settings to protect teens and keep under 13s off the platform, issues the whole industry is grappling with,” said a spokesperson. “We’ll continue to work with experts and industry to keep young people on TikTok safe and look forward to now having the opportunity to explain this work in detail to the Commission.”

TikTok has stated its intention to cooperate fully with the investigation.

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