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TikTok charged with using hidden advertising, showing inappropriate content

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Chinese-owned short video-sharing app TikTok has been given a month to respond to multiple complaints from EU consumer groups that it allegedly violated the bloc’s consumer laws and also allegedly fail to protect children from hidden advertising and inappropriate content.

TikTok’s marketing is alleged to make offers to companies who want to advertise on the app that contribute to the proliferation of hidden marketing. Users are for instance triggered to participate in branded hashtag challenges where they are encouraged to create content of specific products. As popular influencers are often the starting point of such challenges the commercial intent is usually masked for users, according to consumer advocacy group BEUC.

The group alleges that there is a vast breach of consumer rights on TikTok.

Owned by China’s ByteDance, TikTok has seen rapid growth worldwide, particularly among teenagers. However a number of incidents have prompted concerns about its privacy and safety policies.

The European Commission on Friday said that it had launched a formal dialogue with TikTok and national consumer groups to review the company’s commercial practices and policy.

European Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said greater digitalisation brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic has created new risks, in particular for vulnerable consumers.

“In the European Union, it is prohibited to target children and minors with disguised advertising such as banners in videos,” he said in a statement.

TikTok said it would discuss with the the Irish Consumer Protection Commission and the Swedish Consumer Agency measures it recently introduced. Both bodies are leading the talks.

“We have taken a number of steps to protect our younger users, including making all under-16 accounts private-by-default, and disabling their access to direct messaging,” the company said in a statement.

“Further, users under 18 cannot buy, send or receive virtual gifts, and we have strict policies prohibiting advertising directly appealing to those under the age of digital consent.”

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