The European Consumer Organisation BEUC has filed a complaint against TikTok, a video sharing platform extremely popular with children and teenagers.
Based on the findings of new research, BEUC contends that TikTok falls foul of multiple breaches of EU consumer rights and fails to protect children from hidden advertising and inappropriate content:
- Several terms in TikTok’s ‘Terms of Service’ are unfair: They are unclear, ambiguous and favour TikTok to the detriment of its users.
- TikTok’s ‘Virtual Item Policy’ which manages the popular feature that users can purchase coins which they use for virtual gifts for TikTok celebrities contains unfair terms and misleading practices. TikTok claims for instance an absolute right to modify the exchange rate between the coins and the gifts.
- TikTok fails to protect children and teenagers from hidden advertising and potentially harmful content on its platform. Users are for instance triggered to participate in branded hashtag challenges where they are encouraged to create content of specific products. TikTok is also potentially failing to conduct due diligence when it comes to protecting children from inappropriate content such as videos showing suggestive content.
- TikTok’s practices for the processing of users' personal data are misleading. TikTok does not clearly inform its users about what personal data is collected, for what purpose and for what legal reason.
In addition to this consumer law complaint, filed with the EU network of consumer protection authorities, our research also identified various TikTok practices which we consider in breach of data protection laws. We have brought these practices to the attention of data protection authorities in the context of ongoing investigations into the company.
With this action BEUC and its members want authorities to launch an investigation into Tik Tok’s policies and practices and to ensure that TikTok respects EU consumer rights. The company should properly inform consumers about its business model and data processing activities and stop imposing unfair terms and practices on its users. TikTok should also stop keeping its users in the dark about the financial consequences of buying virtual gifts for their favourite idols and improve the fairness of this service. In particular children and teenagers, who form an important part of Tik Tok’s audience must be adequately protected regarding their exposure to marketing, hidden advertising and inappropriate content.
We have brought our data protection findings to the attention of Data Protection Authorities in the context of their ongoing investigations into the company.
TikTok must also respect its users’ privacy and data protection rights. It should ensure that its policies respect all the obligations under EU data protection law. Data collection, profiling and targeted advertising for all users below 18 should be severely restricted.