TikTok Faces E.U. Questions About the ‘Addictive’ Feature

TikTok Faces E.U. Questions About the ‘Addictive’ Feature

European Union regulators on Monday threatened to fine TikTok over a potentially addictive feature in a version of its app called TikTok Lite, which was released to run more smoothly on slower wireless networks.

E.U. The investigation adds to TikTok’s regulatory challenges as the U.S. Senate prepare to vote on a bill that would order the app’s owner, Chinese internet company ByteDance, to sell TikTok or be banned. The company has come under increasing pressure for its links to China, its data collection practices and its potentially harmful effects on children.

In Europe, authorities said TikTok did not conduct the risk assessment required by law before introducing features that allow users to earn rewards such as gift cards for watching videos, liking content and following certain creators. They say the feature provides a financial incentive to spend more time on the app, creating a risk of addiction and mental health problems, especially for children.

The action announced on Monday is the second E.U. investigation into TikTok, along with investigations focused on the lack of effective age verification protections and addictive design features.

In the United States, lawmakers last week passed legislation aimed at forcing ByteDance to sell the social media app. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill, which has been combined with a package of aid bills, this week. The White House and members of Congress have expressed concern that TikTok poses a national security risk because the Chinese government could use the app to gain access to Americans’ data or conduct disinformation campaigns.

TikTok Lite is popular in countries including India, Brazil and Indonesia, but was recently introduced in Spain and France. This application uses less memory to work on phones adapted for low-speed wireless networks.

Under the Digital Services Act, an E.U. a law passed in 2022 to regulate social media platforms, large companies like TikTok must submit a risk assessment before introducing major changes to their products or services. Authorities said TikTok did not submit the required information before introducing the rewards feature, even after the regulator sent a request last week. Regulators said they could force TikTok to remove offers from its service for users in the E.U. as early as Thursday.

TikTok said the Lite app, which has been tested only in France and Spain, is only available to adults whose age has been verified by asking them to submit a selfie with a photo ID or credit card authorization. A daily limit of one hour is provided for tasks related to watching video content.

“We are disappointed by this decision,” TikTok said in a statement. “We will continue discussions with the commission.”
TikTok has until Tuesday to submit a risk assessment report to the European Commission, the executive arm of the 27-nation bloc, and until May 3 to provide other requested information. Otherwise, regulators said, they could impose a fine of up to 1 percent of the company’s annual revenue, as well as an additional “periodic penalty” of up to 5 percent of TikTok’s average daily revenue.

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