TikTok is under fire in Europe amid a growing backlash against the data collection policies of big tech and social media. The region's leading consumer advocacy group, BEUC, has filed a complaint against the Chinese-owned app with the EU's network of consumer protection authorities. It claims TikTok is violating the bloc's stringent data privacy laws, known as the GDPR, through its alleged "vague" terms of service and by "failing to protect children" from hidden "advertising and inappropriate content."
It also raises concerns over the obfuscation of the app's advertising practices, claiming its pop-up consent mechanism for personalized ads fails to live up to GDPR requirements. And that TikTok does not clarify what this authorization entails in terms of how it actually profiles users for advertising purposes.
Therefore, the BEUC concludes that the app has fallen afoul of the GDPR's tenets of transparent data capture and minimization, which dictate that a service should clearly demonstrate that it collects no more than the minimum amount of data required for its operations. This also negatively impacts users' ability to invoke their rights regarding the use of their personal information, according to the BEUC.
Today Tiktok is not popular for fully respecting EU consumer & #Eudatap laws. @beuc + 17 consumer groups launch an action to make the app better for consumers, stop & correct wrongdoings. While focused on consumer law, we also looked at #GDPR compliance: https://t.co/f8sf4WrflZ⬇️— Maryant Fernández (@maryantfp) February 16, 2021
On the technical side, it claims TikTok tracks users through multiple identifiers regardless of their age, preferences, or the state of their accounts. The consumer group emphasizes that younger users can easily bypass the app's age verification method, after which they are exposed to "hidden" ad practices that encourage them to create content for brands in the guise of hashtag challenges. Alongside the BEUC’s complaint, consumer organizations in 15 countries have alerted their national authorities and pushed them to start their own investigations.
Last year, Europe's data protection board set up a TikTok task force to help coordinate potential actions taken against the company. The move was designed to streamline the multiple privacy investigations the app was facing in France, Italy, Holland, and Denmark. Meanwhile, the BEUC has previously rallied against Google's then pending acquisition of Fitbit over data collection concerns, though that deal was eventually cleared by the European Commission late last year following an extended merger investigation.