The EU opens an investigation into TikTok Lite, citing addiction concerns

This follows a more comprehensive probe from February.

Unsplash / Solen Feyissa

The European Union (EU) has opened a second formal investigation into TikTok and has accused the platform of running afoul of the region’s Digital Services Act (DSA), according to a report by TechCrunch. The probe involves the addictive nature of TikTok Lite, which is a smaller version of the app that takes up less memory on a smartphone and was built to perform over slower internet connections.

TikTok Lite launched earlier this month in France and Spain and includes a design aspect that allows users to earn points by watching and liking videos. These points can be exchanged for stuff like Amazon vouchers and TikTok’s proprietary digital currency, which is typically used to tip creators. The EU’s Commission has expressed concern that this type of "task and reward" design language could impact the mental health of young users by "stimulating addictive behavior.”

The Commission hasn’t yet confirmed any breaches of the DSA, but has suggested that it might impose temporary measures to force parent company ByteDance to suspend TikTok Lite in the EU while it continues the investigation. The company has until April 24 to argue against these potential measures, so the app’s still available for EU residents. However, ByteDance failed to provide the EU with a risk assessment document regarding TikTok Lite after being asked last week.

This failure to comply with the DSA could open the company up to steep penalties of up to one percent of its total annual income and periodic penalties of up to five percent of daily income. The Commission hasn’t indicated if it plans on issuing these fines as the investigation continues.

"We suspect TikTok Lite could be as toxic and addictive as” light cigarettes, Thierry Breton, the commissioner for the EU Internal Market, wrote in a press release announcing the probe. “We will spare no effort to protect our children."

ByteDance has yet to respond to the investigation and the potential of TikTok Lite being banned in the EU. This latest inquiry follows a more comprehensive probe issued back in February. That wide-ranging investigation focuses on addictive algorithms, age verification issues, default privacy settings and ad transparency.

February’s probe is ongoing, but ByteDance was already forced to make concessions to allow TikTok to operate in the EU. The company had to give users the choice to disallow algorithms from powering the For You Page and instituted new harmful content reporting options. It also suspended personalized ads for EU users aged 13 to 17.

As for America, the controversial TikTok ban keeps inching closer to reality. The US House of Representatives tucked a revised version of the bill into this weekend’s foreign aid package. Under this new proposed legislation, ByteDance would have one year to sell off TikTok before it would be banned from app stores. It’s now heading to the Senate and will likely be voted on this week. However, it remains to be seen if the Senate will even keep the stuff about TikTok in the foreign aid package. President Biden has previously said he would support a TikTok ban if Congress passes it.