European Commission to suspend TikTok's new rewards program, open second probe

For some reason the world's most notorious app decided not to tick all boxes under the world’s toughest digital law

TikTok has earned itself a second investigation under the European Union's Digital Services Act – and suspension of its rewards program – after failing to comply with the law in two important regards.

As The Register reported last week, TikTok recently launched an app in Europe – TikTok Lite – that offers rewards for spending time on the platform and performing certain tasks. The app and reward system had been available in Asia for a few years.

European commissioner Thierry Breton likened the rewards system to smoking, and the Commission swiftly called for TikTok to produce the risk assessment report that designated Very Large Online Platforms are required to conduct before launching services, as well as a document detailing measures it had adopted to "mitigate potential systemic risks" of the functionalities in TikTok Lite's reward system.

On Tuesday the Commission revealed that TikTok had not delivered either document within the overnight deadline it imposed.

The Commission has therefore launched a formal investigation into whether TikTok breached the Act.

"The Commission is concerned that the 'Task and Reward Program' of TikTok Lite, which allows users to earn points while performing certain 'tasks' on TikTok – has been launched without prior diligent assessment of the risks it entails, in particular those related to the addictive effect of the platforms, and without taking effective risk mitigating measures," states the Commission's announcement of the fresh probe.

"This is of particular concern for children, given the suspected absence of effective age verification mechanisms on TikTok," the document adds.

The probe means the Commission imposed another overnight deadline – Wednesday April 23 – for delivery of the risk assessment and a May 3 deadline for info on harm mitigation.

One reason the Commission opened its first investigation of TikTok was a lack of effective age verification mechanisms and the suspected addictive design of the platform.

TikTok's decision not to provide risk assessment docs last week led the Commission to suspect "a prima facie infringement of the DSA and … risks of serious damage for the mental health of users."

The Commission has therefore also communicated to TikTok its intention to impose "interim measures consisting in the suspension of the TikTok Lite rewards programme in the EU pending the assessment of its safety."

That suspension "could be renewed if necessary and proportionate," the Commission warned.

TikTok has until April 24 – a whole extra day – to explain why a suspension should not be imposed.

With one Euro-probe already under way and the very real threat of being forced to divest its US operations, you might think that TikTok's owner – China's Douyin – would be keen to tick every regulatory box before it did anything new.

Whether its failure to do so is a scofflaw action, insouciance, indifference, or negligence is hard to know.

It's far easier to state that TikTok now faces double trouble in Europe. ®

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