TikTok could face EU fines and suspension of its sister app TikTok Lite

TikTok could face EU fines and suspension of its sister app TikTok Lite

European officials threatened TikTok with massive fines and a possible forced suspension this week of a new spinoff app, launched this month, that regulators claim contains addictive features.

The warning targets TikTok Lite, a less data-intensive version of the main TikTok app that contains a feature that rewards users with cash for engaging with the content and features of the TikTok app.

EU officials fear the feature could be used to turn TikTok Lite users into addicts who cannot stop using the app and described it as an “experiment” without the knowledge of EU citizens in Spain and France where TikTok Lite has been made available.

Monday’s announcement by the European Union marks the trade bloc’s second major investigation into TikTok and focuses specifically on TikTok Lite and what officials say risks serious harm to users’ mental health.

The move comes days after the US House of Representatives passed legislation that could eventually ban TikTok from the United States over national security concerns. The US Senate is expected to take up the measure as early as this week, as part of a vote on foreign aid to Israel and Ukraine.

The latest EU investigation represents the first time Commission officials have flexed their powers using certain new tools given to them under a new European law regulating online platforms, the Digital Services Act (DSA).

“This is a demonstration of the fact that when we say minor protection is a priority under the DSA, we really mean it,” a European Commission official told reporters Monday. “We are disappointed by this decision,” a TikTok spokesperson said in response to the EU’s warning. “TikTok Lite rewards hub is not available for under 18s, and there is a daily limit on video viewing tasks. We will continue discussions with the Commission.”

The European Commission said on Monday it was giving TikTok 48 hours to defend its rewards program to officials, after which TikTok could be ordered to suspend the rewards feature in TikTok Lite as an urgent interim measure. A decision to order the suspension could be made as early as Thursday, commission officials told reporters in a conference call. The suspension can last for 60 days and be renewed repeatedly.

In addition, TikTok could be fined for failing to provide the Commission with the information it is owed about TikTok Lite, including a risk assessment report and a separate report outlining the steps the company has taken to minimize those risks. EU officials first sent their request for information last week. It is separate from another ongoing DSA investigation into TikTok, launched in February, into the company’s approach to user harm more generally.

Failure to submit a TikTok Lite risk assessment by Tuesday, and a risk mitigation report by May 3, could result in a fine of up to 1% of TikTok’s global annual revenue and a “periodic penalty” of up to 5% of TikTok’s average daily revenue, the Commission said.

TikTok could face further, additional fines of up to 6% of its global annual revenue if the TikTok Lite feature under investigation by the Commission is determined to be in violation of the DSA.

Both the possibility of forced suspension and the possibility of fines are procedural tools that the European Commission has not used before under the DSA, a commission official said.

“So far this has never been necessary, because in all our 40-plus requests for information that have been sent, the company has always supplied the information,” the official told reporters on the call. “In general, we have never not received a response to our request for information.”

Commission officials have repeatedly declined to say whether TikTok has offered an explanation for why it has not submitted the requested information.

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