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TikTok Faces E.U. Inquiry Over ‘Addictive’ Features

TechTikTok Faces E.U. Inquiry 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 work more smoothly on slower wireless networks.

The E.U. investigation adds to TikTok’s regulatory challenges as the U.S. Senate prepares to vote on a bill that would order the app’s owner, the Chinese internet company ByteDance, to sell TikTok or be banned. The company is under growing pressure for its links to China, data collection practices and potentially harmful effects on children.

In Europe, the authorities said TikTok had not conducted a legally required risk assessment before introducing features that allow users to earn rewards like 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 for addiction and mental health issues, particularly for children.

The action announced on Monday is the second E.U. investigation against TikTok, along with an inquiry focused on a lack of effective age-verification protections and addictive design features.

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

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

Under the Digital Services Act, an E.U. law passed in 2022 to regulate social media platforms, large companies such as TikTok must submit risk assessments before introducing major changes to their products or services. The authorities said TikTok had not submitted the needed information before introducing the rewards features, even after regulators sent a request last week. Regulators said they could force TikTok to remove the offerings from its service for users in the E.U. as early as Thursday.

TikTok said the Lite app, which has been test-launched only in France and Spain, is available only to adults whose age has been verified by having them submit a selfie with a photo ID, or a credit card authorization. An hourlong daily limit is in place for tasks related to viewing video content.

“We are disappointed with 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 the other information requested. If it does not, regulators said, they could impose fines up to 1 percent of the company’s annual revenue, as well as additional “periodic penalties” of up to 5 percent of TikTok’s average daily revenue.

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