TikTok faces EU investigation over addictive features

European Union regulators on Monday threatened to fine TikTok over potentially addictive features on a version of its app called TikTok Lite, which was released to run more smoothly on slower wireless networks.

The EU investigation adds to TikTok's regulatory challenges as the US Senate prepares to vote on a bill that would order the app's owner, Chinese internet company ByteDance, to sell TikTok or be banned. The company is under increasing pressure due to its ties to China, data collection practices and potentially harmful effects on children.

In Europe, authorities said TikTok had not conducted a legally required risk assessment before introducing features that let users earn rewards such as gift cards for watching videos, liking content and following certain creators. They said the features provided a financial incentive to spend more time on the app, creating risks of addiction and mental health problems, particularly for children.

The action announced on Monday is the second EU investigation against TikTok, alongside an investigation focused on its lack of effective age verification protections and addictive design features.

In the United States, lawmakers last week passed legislation intended to force ByteDance to sell the social media app. The Senate is expected to vote this week on the bill, which has been bundled with a package of relief bills. The White House and members of Congress have expressed concern that TikTok poses a national security risk because the Chinese government could use the app to gain access to Americans' data or conduct a disinformation campaign.

TikTok Lite is best known in countries including India, Brazil and Indonesia, but was more recently introduced in Spain and France. The app uses less memory to run on phones designed for lower speed wireless networks.

Under the Digital Services Act, an EU law passed in 2022 to regulate social media platforms, large companies like TikTok must submit risk assessments before introducing major changes to their products or services. Authorities said TikTok had failed to submit necessary information before introducing rewards features, even after regulators sent a request last week. Regulators said they could force TikTok to remove the offers from its service for users in the EU as early as Thursday.

TikTok said that the Lite app, which has only been launched on a trial basis in France and Spain, is only available to adults whose age has been verified by sending them a selfie with a photo ID or authorization from the credit card. There is a one-hour daily limit for activities related to viewing video content.

“We are disappointed by this decision,” TikTok said in a statement. “We will continue discussions with the Commission.”

TikTok has until Tuesday to submit a risk assessment report to the European Commission, the executive branch of the 27-nation bloc, and until May 3 to provide other requested information. Failure to do so, regulators said, could impose fines of up to 1% of the company's annual revenue, as well as additional “periodic fines” of up to 5% of TikTok's average daily revenue.

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