TikTok Adjusts Ad Disclosure After EU Child Safety Complaints, But Profiling Issues Remain

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Long-term EU engagement with TikTok, initiated after a series of child safety and consumer protection complaints filed back in February 2021 has ended for now with the video sharing platform offering a series of commitments to improve user reporting and disclosure requirements for ads/sponsored content; and increase the transparency of their digital coins and virtual gifts.

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“Through our dialogue, consumers will be able to discover all kinds of advertising they are exposed to when using this platform,” EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said yesterday.

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“Despite today’s commitment, we will continue to monitor the situation going forward, with a particular focus on the impact on younger users,” he added.

TikTok has been contacted for comment.

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In his Press release In announcing the development, the Commission summarized the “basic commitments” that TikTok agreed to, as follows:

  • Users can now report ads and offers that could potentially encourage or trick children into buying products or services.
  • branded content is now subject to politics user protection that prohibits advertising of inappropriate goods and services such as alcohol, get-rich-quick schemes and cigarettes;
  • users are prompted to turn on the toggle when they post content titled with certain brand-related keywords such as #ad or #sponsored;
  • if a user has more than 10,000 followers, their videos are reviewed by TikTok for compliance with its Branded Content Policy and the Community. Guidelines make sure the content meets the requirements;
  • the rules explain how to buy and use the coins, and the pop-up windows will show the estimated price in local currency. Consumers are allowed to opt out of a purchase within 14 days of purchase, and their purchase history is also available;
  • the policies also explain how to earn rewards from TikTok and how to send gifts that users can easily calculate their price for;
  • paid advertising in videos will be identified by a new label, the effectiveness of which will be verified by a third party;
  • users will be able to report undisclosed branded content, and new rules for hashtags and labels will be implemented.

However, the European consumer organization BEUC, which initiated the complaint, warned that “serious concerns” remain about how TikTok manages its platform, raising questions about the decision at the EU level to accept TikTok’s commitments and enforce them rather than adopt tougher measures. action.

“We applaud TikTok’s commitment to increasing marketing transparency on its platform, but the impact of such commitments on consumers remains highly uncertain. Despite more than a year of dialogue with TikTok, the investigation is now closed and the serious concerns we raised have gone unaddressed,” BEUC Deputy CEO Ursula Pahl warned in a statement.

“We are particularly concerned that TikTok will not stop profiling and targeting children through personalized ads. This is contrary to the five principles of advertising for children adopted by the data protection and consumer protection authorities last week.”

“We are now calling on the authorities to closely monitor TikTok activities and take national enforcement action if commitments are not met. This shouldn’t be the end of the story. BEUC and our members will be following developments closely,” she added.

The Commission’s own press release, which begins by stating that TikTok has agreed to bring its rules into line with EU consumer protection rules, can’t help but sound doubtful that a whole host of problems have actually been solved by this takeover. -bag of policy settings. Especially in the case of children, who are the group of greatest concern, given the exceptional popularity of the platform among young Internet users and the relative vulnerability of children to “sharp” commercial methods compared to adults.

And the Commission on Public Affairs recognizes that consumer protection agencies at the member state level may eventually take action at the national level to address the remaining problems.

If that happens, the whole saga will come full circle (very slowly) as a number of national consumer protection authorities filed an initial series of complaints that prompted the Commission to coordinate a more than a year-long dialogue with TikTok in the first place – raising questions about how effective the EU Modernization is. of its consumer protection system was aimed at coordinating meaningful action when issues are broad/transcend national borders.

If the strategy of EU lawmakers is to soften tough consumer complaints to encourage platforms to propose a minimum of operational changes without having local authorities resort to a patchwork of enforcement, then perhaps increased coordination – and an expanded role for the DIY in the process – works as intended.

But this scenario suggests that it is EU citizens who are the losers in this “modernization” as enforcement appears to be receiving less attention – despite the bloc’s parallel adoption of more dissuasive penalties for widespread consumer protection violations that empowered national authorities to impose fines of at least 4% of the global annual turnover.

“The Consumer Protection Cooperation Network (CPC) will actively follow up on these commitments in 2022 and beyond,” writes the EU chief executive of TikTok’s commitment. “The CPC authorities in particular will monitor and evaluate compliance where concerns remain, such as whether children’s understanding of the commercial aspects of TikTok practices is sufficiently clear. For example, with regard to personalized advertising, in light of the recently published5 Key Principles of Fair Advertising for Kids‘.

“CPC will also carefully review the test results of the tags, as well as their implementation and the adequacy of the display of the estimated unit price of the coin in local currency when sending a gift,” he adds. “Furthermore, actions can be taken at the national level to ensure compliance with EU standards and ensure that all platforms follow the same rules.”

So while further action could be taken at the national level to address remaining issues – or indeed through a monitoring process if TikTok is found to be in default, for now, it appears to have avoided tougher enforcement action. consumers in the EU. concern.

The Public Relations Commission indicates that the EU’s network of data protection authorities “remains competent” to assess the compliance of new TikTok policies and practices with the block’s data protection rules. However, this line does a great job, given that the mechanism under the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), designed to facilitate the investigation of cross-border issues by filing complaints through the lead DPA, has been accused of creating major enforcement bottlenecks.

The Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC), which is TikTok’s leading DPA in the EU and also one of the most complained about DPAs when it comes to cross-border GDPR compliance, has launched two investigations into the platform in September 2021, one of which is explicitly about how it handles child data. Both of these investigations are ongoing.

Regarding the request for children’s data, the DPC today told TechCrunch that it expects to send the draft decision to other interested EU DPAs for review (and possibly objection) by the end of August, assuming no final decision has been made on the request for children’s data. inevitable.

This is because the verification phase (Article 60 of the GDPR) can take several months. Also, if objections are filed by other DPAs, it could be many more months before a final decision is made (either by majority consensus or, if none can be found, the EDPB intervenes), meaning it may not be the last issue. on whether TikTok’s processing of children’s data complies with EU data protection law until 2023.

For example, in another Twitter-related cross-border GDPR case, it took from May 2020, when the DPC submitted its draft decision for consideration, to December 2020 to reach consensus by majority vote (after objections).

Also, in the case of the DPC investigation into GDPR transparency regarding WhatsApp, its draft decision was sent to other DPAs at the end of December 2020, but a final decision was not made until September 2021 after irreconcilable disputes between DPAs required the intervention of the EDPB. and issue a binding decision at the ATC to substantially revise the amount of the fine upwards, adding about six months to the process.

So it’s safe to say that TikTok’s processing of children’s data for advertising will not lead to immediate action by the “competent” data protection authorities in the EU.

By all appearances, this issue does not force any of the block’s consumer protection bodies into action, despite all their months-long misgivings about TikTok’s practices. (Including the CPC network endorsing the above fair advertising principles for children — which provide that: “Some marketing methods, such as personalized marketing, may not be suitable for use due to the particular vulnerability of children.”)

The problem on the consumer protection agency front is likely to come down to regulators needing to “stay in their lane” – or, in effect, the CPC network is waiting on the Irish DPC and cross-border collaborative GDPR workflows to get the job done and reach a solution. .

But while EU regulators play to protect children, TikTok continues to process children’s data for advertising.

The platform is also developing its legal terms – recently incoming change which will apply to (all) users in the region from July 13, which means moving from using consent to the processing of user data for targeted advertising to a statement of legal basis known as “legitimate interests”.

So basically TikTok won’t ask EU users for consent to process their data to run “personalized ads” from next month.

Ever since the platform announced the planned transition, EU data protection experts have raised registration flags questioning the viability of TikTok using the LI legal framework for this purpose; and the change proposal could mean that TikTok will give users no choice but to accept behavioral ads if they choose to use its platform.

It is unclear whether TikTok’s lead data protection regulator in the EU, Ireland’s DPC, has been consulted about these incoming changes, which appear to be extremely significant for the data protection rights of all EU citizens.

We have asked the DPC about the planned change to TikTok’s legal framework, but at the time of writing, we are still awaiting a response to a number of questions.

We also asked the Commission about the decision, under the coordinated consumer advocacy process she led, to commit to TikTok despite consumer groups continuing to warn of serious concerns. But, again, at press time, we were still waiting for comments.

Credit: techcrunch.com /

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