Euro Consumer Advocate Files Complaint Against TikTok Over Child Privacy

As Biden reconsiders Trump’s approach to Chinese technology companies like TikTok, a European consumer rights group says the video-sharing app is mining data from teenagers and exposing them to inappropriate ads. 

Icons for the smartphone apps TikTok and WeChat are seen on a smartphone screen in Beijing, Friday, Aug. 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

(CN) — A consumer group in the European Union filed a complaint Monday against TikTok, the popular video-sharing app, saying the company inappropriately mines data from children and teenagers. 

The European Consumer Organization filed the complaint with the European Commission and a network of consumer protection agencies saying TikTok’s terms of service regarding data privacy are purposely unclear and that the company collects the personal information of all its users, including children. 

“Children love TikTok but the company fails to keep them protected,” said Monique Goyens, director general of the consumer organization. “We do not want our youngest ones to be exposed to pervasive hidden advertising and unknowingly turned into billboards when they are just trying to have fun.”

The complaint comes as the Biden administration continues to analyze America’s regulatory approach to TikTok and other Chinese technology companies.

Former President Donald Trump attempted to ban TikTok over concerns the Chinese Communist Party was using the private company that owns the app, ByteDance Inc., to spy and collect information on American citizens. 

The Trump administration also pursued a ban on the use of WeChat, another China-based social media app. Trump himself claimed the app was a threat to national security due to its ability to capture data from Americans. 

Trump approved a deal between ByteDance, Oracle and Walmart that stipulated the sale of a certain portion of the U.S.-based TikTok business to American companies to ease worries of interference from the Chinese government. 

ByteDance is now walking away from that deal with Trump out of office, reports indicate

A federal judge granted a preliminary injunction to ByteDance to prevent the immediate ban of the use of TikTok in the United States, and the Biden administration indicated in subsequent court filings it will not pursue the same avenues as its predecessor. 

Nevertheless, Monday’s action in Europe shows that concerns about the app persist. 

“In just a few years, TikTok has become one of the most popular social media apps with millions of users across Europe,” Goyens said. “But TikTok is letting its users down by breaching their rights on a massive scale. We have discovered a whole series of consumer rights infringements and therefore filed a complaint against TikTok.”

The European-based consumer advocacy group also expressed concern that the app does not do enough to prevent children from seeing age-inappropriate advertising, uses overly ambiguous terms of service, encourages in-app purchases that can be deceiving to children and collects data for unclear purposes. 

Talks between ByteDance and the Biden administration continue to hinge on the data collection piece, with the White House seeking assurances data will not be shared with the Chinese government, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In Europe, consumer advocates want regulatory authorities to investigate ByteDance’s business practices with a focus on data privacy. 

“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,” the European Consumer Organization said in a statement

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