TikTok under fire over potential GDPR violations

Hands holding a smartphone displaying TikTok logo with laptop in background
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) has filed a complaint against TikTok, alleging the video-sharing platform’s practices could be in breach of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

According to the complaint, filed with the European Commission, TikTok misleads its users by failing to clearly inform them about what kind of personal data it collects, what the collected data will be used for, and the legal reasoning behind its collection.

The BEUC has emphasised that this practice is especially harmful for TikTok’s underage users, who are also left unprotected from hidden advertising as well as potentially harmful content on the platform.

The consumer organisation also alleges that “several” terms in TikTok’s ‘Terms of Service’ are “unclear, ambiguous and favour TikTok to the detriment of its users”. The platform’s copyright terms weren’t found to be any better, allegedly providing TikTok with “an irrevocable right to use, distribute and reproduce the videos published by users, without remuneration”.

It also accused the platform of misleading its users with its ‘Virtual Item Policy’, which lets fans of TikTok celebrities purchase coins which can be exchanged for virtual gifts as a way of showing their gratitude to their favourite content creators.

According to the BEUC, TikTok claims “an absolute right to modify the exchange rate between the coins and the gifts, potentially skewing the financial transaction in its own favour”.

The organisation’s director general Monique Goyens said that “TikTok is letting its users down by breaching their rights on a massive scale”.

“We have discovered a whole series of consumer rights infringements and therefore filed a complaint against TikTok,” she said, adding that, although “children love TikTok”, the platform “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. Together with our members - consumer groups from across Europe - we urge authorities to take swift action. They must act now to make sure TikTok is a place where consumers, especially children, can enjoy themselves without being deprived of their rights,” said Goyens.

The BEUC announced that, in addition to its complaint, consumer organisations in 15 countries, including Sweden, Germany, and France, have alerted their authorities and urged them to investigate TikTok’s conduct.

Sabina Weston

Having only graduated from City University in 2019, Sabina has already demonstrated her abilities as a keen writer and effective journalist. Currently a content writer for Drapers, Sabina spent a number of years writing for ITPro, specialising in networking and telecommunications, as well as charting the efforts of technology companies to improve their inclusion and diversity strategies, a topic close to her heart.

Sabina has also held a number of editorial roles at Harper's Bazaar, Cube Collective, and HighClouds.