Concerns related to the addictive effect of the platforms led the Commission to open proceedings against TikTok

European Commission @EU_Commission

In February 2024, the Commission initiated formal proceedings against TikTok to investigate whether the company violated the Digital Services Act (DSA) in several areas related to the protection of minors, advertising transparency, data access for researchers, and managing addictive design and harmful content. The investigation is ongoing, and two other formal proceedings are currently open under the DSA, one against X and one against AliExpress. Since 17 February, the DSA has applied to all online intermediaries in the EU. 

Today, the Commission has opened a second formal proceeding against TikTok under the DSA. The investigation aims to determine whether the company breached the DSA when launching TikTok Lite in France and Spain. According to the DSA, Very Large Online Platforms must submit a risk assessment report, including measures to mitigate any potential systemic risks, before launching any new functionalities likely to impact their systemic risks critically.

“The Commission is concerned that TikTok did not submit a risk assessment of the new TikTok Lite, especially regarding a ‘reward program’ where users for instance can earn points on liking content or inviting friends to TikTok. Under the Digital Services Act, online platforms have the responsibility to assess and address any potential risks their users may face. So, the Commission has opened a compliance case that urges TikTok to submit an assessment and provide more information on how it is protecting its users from potential risks on their platform,” Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age explained.

TikTok’s should comply with DSA’s obligations

On 25 April 2023, the Commission classified TikTok as a Very Large Online Platform under the DSA due to its EU user base exceeding 45 million average active users. Since the end of August 2023, TikTok has been required to comply with the DSA’s obligations. 

TikTok Lite is a new app for users aged 18+ with a “Task and Reward Programme” feature. This feature allows users to earn points by performing specific tasks on TikTok, such as watching videos, liking content, following creators, and inviting friends to join the app. These points can be exchanged for rewards such as Amazon vouchers, gift cards via PayPal, or TikTok’s coins currency, which can be used to tip creators. TikTok Lite was recently launched in France and Spain. According to the DSA, Very Large Online Platforms must submit a risk assessment report and measures to mitigate potential systemic risks before launching any new features that may significantly impact their systemic risks.

The Commission has expressed concern regarding TikTok Lite’s “Task and Reward Programme”, which allows users to earn points by performing specific tasks on the platform, such as watching videos, liking content, following creators, and inviting friends to join TikTok. The EC believes that the platform launched the programme without a thorough assessment of the risks associated with it, particularly about the addictive nature of the platform, and without sufficient measures to mitigate these risks. The Commission is particularly concerned that children may be at risk, as TikTok does not appear to have effective age verification mechanisms. The lack of effective age verification, combined with the potentially addictive design of the platform, is currently under investigation in the first formal proceedings against TikTok.

“Endless streams of short and fast-paced videos could be seen as fun, but also expose our children to risks of addiction, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, low attention spans… With our first DSA non-compliance case against TikTok still ongoing, the company has launched TikTok Lite which financially rewards extra screen time. We suspect TikTok ‘Lite’ could be as toxic and addictive as cigarettes ‘light’. Unless TikTok provides compelling proof of its safety, which it has failed to do until now, we stand ready to trigger DSA interim measures including the suspension of TikTok Lite feature which we suspect could generate addiction. We will spare no effort to protect our children,” Thierry Breton, Commissioner for Internal Market, stressed.

EC suspects a prima facie infringement of the DSA

The investigation will focus on TikTok’s compliance with the DSA obligation to conduct a risk assessment report before deploying functionalities that could critically impact systemic risks. Specifically, the investigation will analyse the adverse effects on mental health, particularly among minors, resulting from the “Task and Reward Lite” programme and the measures taken by TikTok to mitigate those risks. 

If proven, these failures would constitute an infringement of the DSA. The Commission has sent TikTok a formal request for information, compelling the company to provide the risk assessment report for TikTok Lite and information about the measures taken to mitigate potential systemic risks of these new functionalities. TikTok must submit the risk assessment report to the Commission by 23 April and provide the other information requested by 3 May.

The Commission suspects a prima facie infringement of the DSA. It intends to impose interim measures, including suspending the TikTok Lite rewards programme in the EU pending an assessment of its safety. TikTok has until 24 April to present arguments in its defence. 

The opening of formal proceedings empowers the Commission to take further enforcement steps and can accept any commitment made by TikTok to remedy the matters subject to the proceeding. 

Finally, opening formal proceedings relieves Digital Services Coordinators or any other competent authority of EU Member States of their powers to supervise and enforce the DSA regarding the suspected infringements.

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