Another week, another worry. The clock always seems to be ticking for TikTok, the world’s most popular video-sharing app for today’s kids.
This week, it’s a matter of multiple complaints from watchdogs that the app has breached young users’ rights “on a massive scale” by failing to protect them from hidden advertising and inappropriate content.
TikTok’s Chinese-owned parent company, Byte Dance, has been given a month to respond to the action brought by EU consumer groups.
In the European Union, it is illegal for tech companies to target minors with disguised advertising - banners in videos, for example.
Evidence that TikTok is doing exactly that has prompted the European Commission to initiate a “formal dialogue” between TikTok and national consumer groups.
Specific concerns include "hidden marketing, aggressive advertising techniques targeted at children, and certain contractual terms in TikTok's policies” - plus issues around the app’s potentially misleading and confusing “Terms of Service.”
And that’s all in addition to ongoing scrutiny in the EU about how children’s personal information is being handled, or mishandled as the case may be.
TikTok has defended itself vigorously. In a statement from director of public policy Caroline Greer, the company claims it has "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 insists it uses 13+ age verification for personalised ads. But its age verification procedures have been widely assailed as weak and ineffective.
"We have strict policies prohibiting advertising directly appealing to those under the age of digital consent.”
The company insists it uses 13+ age verification for personalised ads. But its age verification procedures have been widely assailed as weak and ineffective - leading, among other actions, to the Italian national data protection agency ordering TikTok to remove more than half a million accounts suspected of belonging to under-13s.
Issues around “digital consent” are a growing global concern in an increasingly online world. Debates about content moderation, algorithmic bias and privacy protections are consequential for all users - but especially for the most vulnerable - our children.
In a review of 150 privacy policies, the New York Times found the average readability was on a par with reading the philosopher Immanuel Kant.
So where, one wonders, does that leave our children?
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