After EU child safety complaints, TikTok changes ad disclosures but profiling concerns remain Meczyki.Net

The long-running EU engagement with TikTok – started after a series of complaints over child safety and consumer protection complaints filed back in February 2021 – has now ended, with the video sharing platform working to improve user reporting and disclosure. Offers a range of commitments. requirements relating to advertisements/sponsored content; And also to promote transparency around its digital coins and virtual gifts.

“Thanks to our conversation, consumers will be able to see all kinds of advertisements while using this platform,” EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said in a statement yesterday.

“Despite today’s commitment, we will continue to monitor the situation in the future, with particular attention to the impact on younger users,” he said.

TikTok was contacted for comment.

in his Press release In announcing the development, the Commission has summarized the “key commitments” TikTok agreed to – which are:

  • Users can now report advertisements and offers that could potentially induce or deceive children into purchasing goods or services;
  • Branded content is now a . obeys Policy protect users, which prohibits the promotion of inappropriate products and services such as alcohol, “get rich quick” schemes and cigarettes;
  • When users publish content titled with specific brand-related keywords, such as #ad or #Sponsored, they are prompted to turn on the toggle;
  • If a user has more than 10,000 followers, his video is reviewed by Tik Tok against its branded content policy and community guidance To ensure that the material is suitable;
  • The policies explain how to purchase and use the coins, and a pop-up window will provide an estimated value in local currencies. Consumers are allowed withdrawals within 14 days from purchase, and their purchase history is also available;
  • The policies also explain how to receive rewards and send gifts from TikTok, for which users can easily calculate their own cost;
  • Paid advertising in the video will be identified with a new label, which will be tested for effectiveness by a third party;
  • Users are able to report anonymous branded content, and new rules for hashtags and labels will be implemented.

However the European consumer organization, BEUC – which originated the complaint – warned that “significant concerns” remain over how TikTok operates its platform, which, at the EU level, violates TikTok’s commitments. Calls into question the decision to accept and monitor implementation – rather than strictly enforce it. action.

“We welcome that TikTok has committed to improving the transparency of marketing on its platform, but the impact of such commitments on consumers is highly uncertain. Despite talks with TikTok for more than a year, the investigation is now closed, barring important concerns, which we have gone unheeded,” warned Ursula Pachal, deputy director general of BEUC, in a statement.

“We are particularly concerned that the profiling and targeting of children with personalized advertising will not be stopped by TikTok. This contrasts with the Five Principles on Children’s Advertising adopted by data protection and consumer protection officials last week.

“We now urge authorities to closely monitor TikTok’s activities and take national enforcement action if commitments are not met. This should not be the end of the story. BEUC and our members will keep a close watch on the developments.”

The Commission’s own press release – which closes with a headline claim that TikTok has agreed to align its rules with those of the EU consumer protection – cannot avoid sounding dubious that there are actually concerns. The entire chain has been addressed by this grab. -Bag of policy tweaks. Particularly in the case of children – which is the group of most concern here, given the platform’s immense popularity with young Internet users and the relative vulnerability of children to ‘faster’ business practices than adults.

And the Commission PR acknowledges that member state level consumer protection agencies can take action at the national level to address the remaining concerns.

If that happens the whole saga will (very slowly) come full circle, as a series of national consumer protection bodies fed the original complaint chain, which prompted the commission to coordinate the year+long conversation with TikTok in the first place. – raising questions about how effectively the EU has modernized its consumer protection framework to coordinate meaningful action where concerns are wide/cut across national borders.

If the strategy of EU lawmakers to encourage platforms to serve minimal operational changes without requiring local bodies to resort to a patchwork of enforcement is to soft pedal on harsh consumer complaints, perhaps increased coordination – and expanded The Commission itself is working as intended in this process for the role.

But, well, this scenario would suggest that it is EU citizens who are losing out in this ‘modernisation’ because of the emphasis on enforcement – ​​despite the parallel adoption of more humiliating penalties for widespread consumer protection violations, which have National authority has given authorities to be able to issue fines of up to at least 4% of global annual turnover.

“The Consumer Protection Cooperation Network (CPC) will actively monitor the implementation of these commitments, in 2022 and beyond,” writes the EU executive of TikTok’s commitments. “CPC officers will, in particular, monitor and assess compliance where concerns remain, such as whether there is sufficient clarity about children’s understanding of the business aspects of TikTok’s practices. For example, in the light of the recently published ‘What about personalized advertising’5 key principles of fair advertising for children,

“The CPC will also carefully examine the adequacy of the test results of the labels, as well as their implementation, and the performance of the estimated unit value per coin in the local currency when sending gifts.” “Furthermore, action could be initiated at the national level to ensure that EU standards are respected and to ensure that all platforms comply with the same regulations.”

So, while further action may come nationally to address remaining concerns – or, indeed through the monitoring process, if TikTok is found to fail to meet its commitments, it appears that it will The EU has escaped strong crackdown on consumer protection. concerns.

The Commission PR indicates that the network of EU data protection authorities is “competent” to assess compliance with TikTok’s new policies and the bloc’s data protection rules. However, this is a line that is carrying a lot of weight given a mechanism within the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that aims to investigate cross-border issues by funneling complaints through a major DPA. which has been accused of contributing to major enforcement bottlenecks.

Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC), which is TikTok’s lead EU DPA – and is one of the most complaining about DPAs when it comes to cross-border GDPR enforcement – ​​opened two investigations into the platform in September 2021. , one of which is apparently concerned with how it processes children’s data. The investigation of both of them is on.

On the children’s data inquiry, the DPC told Meczyki.Net today that it expects to send a draft decision for review (and potentially objection) to other interested EU DPAs by the end of August – the final decision on the children’s data inquiry. To suggest is not close.

This is because (GDPR Article 60) the review phase may take several months to complete. Also, if objections are filed by other DPAs, it may take several more months for a final decision (either by majority consensus; or, if the EDPB cannot be acted upon) – which means that there may be It is not a final decision whether TikTok’s processing of children’s data complies with EU data protection law until 2023.

In another cross-border GDPR case, for example – related to Twitter – this was taken from May 2020, when the DPC has sent its approval for review by December 2020 to reach consensus via a majority voting decision (following objections). Presented draft decision.

Additionally, in the case of the GDPR transparency investigation of WhatsApp’s DPC, its draft decision was sent to other DPAs at the end of December 2020 – but a final decision was taken by September 2021 after irreconcilable disputes between the DPAs required the EDPB to step in. was not given. and issuing a binding decision on the DPC to substantially revise the size of the penalty, adding about half a year extra to the process.

It is therefore a safe bet that TikTok’s processing of children’s data for advertisements is not facing immediate action from “competent” data protection authorities in the EU.

Nor, it appears, is the issue forcing any block’s consumer protection authority to act – despite their months-long concerns about TikTok’s practices. (Including the CPC network supporting the above The ‘fair advertising’ principle for children – which determines that: “Some marketing techniques, e.g., personalized marketing, may be unsuitable for use because of specific vulnerabilities of children.”)

The problem on the Consumer Protection Agency front is potentially requiring regulators to ‘stay in their lane’ – or, basically, the CPC network waiting to be reached and worked on cross-border joint-working processes of Ireland’s DPC and GDPR. Used to be. a decision.

But while EU regulators play parcel on child protection issues, TikTok continues to process children’s data for ads.

The platform is also developing its own legal terms – recently announced upcoming change Which will apply to (all) users of the territory from 13 July, which means that it can claim a legal basis for processing user data known as ‘lawful interests’ by relying on consent for targeted ads is switching.

So, basically, TikTok will not ask EU users’ consent to process their data to run ‘personalized ads’ from next month.

Ever since the platform announced the planned switch, EU data protection experts have been raising reg flags – questioning the viability of TikTok using the LI legal basis for such a purpose; And suggesting the change could mean that TikTok will provide users with no choice but to accept behavioral advertising if they choose to use its platform.

It is unclear whether TikTok’s lead EU data protection regulator, Ireland’s DPC, has been consulted on these upcoming changes, which are of utmost importance to the data protection rights of all EU citizens.

We asked the DPC about the planned change of legal base by TikTok, but at the time of writing we were still awaiting answers to a series of questions.

We also asked the Commission about the decision taken through a coordinated consumer protection process that led to the acceptance of TikTok’s commitments, despite consumer groups continuing to warn of significant concerns. But, again, at press time we were still waiting for comment.