European consumer advocacy group BEUC complained Tuesday to TikTok, including allegations that the China-based social media platform is not transparent about why it should collect some data on users. The complaint also claims TikTok Spreading “hidden advertising” aimed at children, according to the group’s press release.
While most of the concerns about TikTok in the US revolve around user data and the Chinese government’s ability to monitor content, The official complaint by BEUC to the European Commission on Tuesday included allegations that received little attention in mainstream news in the US, including fears that children were receiving marketing messages through covert means.
One Press release BEUC explains the organization’s concerns about hashtag challenges and other marketing initiatives at TikTok, and highlights ours:
TikTok does not protect children and teens from hidden advertising and potentially harmful content on its platform. TikTok’s marketing offers to companies that want to advertise on the application contribute to the spread of hidden marketing. For example, users are encouraged to participate in branded hashtag contests where they are encouraged to create content for specific products. Business intent is often masked for users, as popular influencers are often the starting point for such challenges. TikTok also potentially fails to take due care when it comes to protecting kids from inappropriate content, such as videos showing explicit content a few swipes away.
TikTok received extreme scrutiny in the US under the Trump regime, but the Biden administration pointed out that the social media company is ready to allow it to operate without forcibly selling the American wing. But concerns about TikTok do not go away, and Europe’s consumer watchdogs and advocacy groups are taking a different approach to practicing scrutiny in the app, which is extremely popular with children.
“In just a few years, TikTok has become one of the most popular social media apps with millions of users in Europe. But TikTok disappoints its users by violating their rights drastically, ”said BEUC Managing Director Monique Goyens in a press release.
“We discovered a number of consumer rights violations and that’s why we filed a complaint to TikTok,” Goyens continued.
TikTok and its parent company Bytedance did not respond to a request for comment earlier Tuesday.
“Kids love TikTok but the company fails to protect them. We don’t want our little ones to be exposed to widespread classified ads and unknowingly turn into billboards just trying to have fun, ”Goyens wrote.
Given the app’s user base, it might be appropriate to focus on how children interact with the app, but it’s not at all clear that American regulators in the US will draw my concerns about marketing tobacco and unhealthy food advertising to kids. In recent years children, however, have relatively little protection for American children compared to their European counterparts.
“Together with our members – consumer groups from across Europe – we urge the authorities to act quickly,” said Goyens. “They need to act now to make sure TikTok is a place where consumers, especially children, can have fun without depriving them of their rights.”