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TikTok accused of breaching European users' rights 'on a massive scale'

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TiktTok has been accused of exploiting the rights and data of its young users.
TiktTok has been accused of exploiting the rights and data of its young users.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File
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Several consumer associations in Europe have filed a complaint against TikTok over the platform's use of data.

The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) announced the complaint on Tuesday, accusing the popular social network of exploiting the rights and data of its young users.

"TikTok falls foul of multiple breaches of EU consumer rights and fails to protect children from hidden advertising and inappropriate content," BEUC said in a press release.

The organisation has also urged authorities in 15 European countries to investigate TikTok’s conduct further.

Following a months-long investigation, the popular platform was found to have "unclear, ambiguous" terms of service, BEUC said.

"Its copyright terms are equally unfair as they give TikTok an irrevocable right to use, distribute and reproduce the videos published by users, without remuneration," it added.

TikTok is also facing scrutiny over a feature that allows users to purchase coins as virtual "gifts" for online influencers. BEUC said that the platform's policy on this feature contains "unfair terms and misleading practices", given that TikTok has the ability to solely change the online exchange rate between the coins and "gifts".

This potentially "skews the financial transaction in its own favour," the BEUC said.

The video-sharing network has faced pressure from Italian data protection authorities to block underage users from using the app.

BEUC has also accused TikTok of "failing to conduct due diligence when it comes to protecting children" online.

"Inappropriate content such as videos showing suggestive content which are just a few scrolls away," the bureau added.

Meanwhile, the app, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, is also alleged to fail to clearly inform users about what personal data is collected and for what purposes.

"We consider that some of these ... practices are potentially in breach of the General Data Protection Regulation and have brought them to the attention of Data Protection Authorities in the context of their ongoing investigations into the company," BEUC stated.

"In just a few years, TikTok has become one of the most popular social media apps with millions of users across Europe," said Monique Goyens, Director General of BEUC, "but TikTok is letting its users down by breaching their rights on a massive scale".

"Children love TikTok but the company fails to keep them protected. We do not want our youngest ones to be exposed to pervasive hidden advertising and unknowingly turned into billboards when they are just trying to have fun."

In a statement to Euronews, TikTok said it had made changes to ensure its privacy policies could be understood by younger users.

"Ensuring the safety of our community, especially of our younger users, and respecting the laws in force where we operate are responsibilities that we take very seriously," said a spokesperson.

"We are committed to protecting our community on a daily basis, and have taken important initiatives such as changing all default privacy settings for users under the age of 16 to private."

"We are always listening to improve our practices," the spokesperson added.

TikTok says it has contacted the European Consumer Organisation to organise a meeting and address concerns.

Additional sources • AFP