TikTok promises to stop hidden ads after consumer groups complain


In February 2021, hidden ads became the latest issue with TikTok, when the European Consumer Organisation BEUC filed a complaint about the video app with the EU Commission and the network of national consumer protection authorities. — dpa

BRUSSELS: TikTok is promising to do a better job at protecting users from hidden ads, following complaints from consumer protection groups that users, particularly the app's millions of teenage fans, are not aware that many videos try to sell them something.

The EU Commission has announced that, after more than a year of talks, the makers of what is currently the world's most downloaded app have agreed to adapt their approach to EU rules and let users know when they are watching an ad.

In future, consumers will be able to recognise all types of advertising on TikTok, said Didier Reynders, the responsible EU commissioner. However TikTok is still refusing to stop personalising ads for children, consumer protection authorities say.

TikTok's success, which has seen it downloaded more than a billion times on Android phones alone, has been accompanied by much criticism. Following concerns that child abusers were using the app, beloved by teenagers, for grooming, TikTok has improved its parental controls and added restrictions for younger users.

Following complaints about the app's addictive design and endless feed of auto-playing videos, the designers have also implemented digital wellbeing features and is allowing users to limit they time they spend in the app.

In February 2021, hidden ads became the latest issue with TikTok, when the European Consumer Organisation BEUC filed a complaint about the video app with the EU Commission and the network of national consumer protection authorities.

The consumer protection advocates criticised that children and young people were not sufficiently protected from hidden advertising and potentially harmful content. TikTok's approach to processing personal data was also misleading, they said.

According to the EU Commission, one of the promises made by TikTok after the talks is that users will be able to report advertising and offers that could urge or entice children to buy goods or services. In addition, paid advertising in videos will be marked with a new label in the future.

BEUC's consumer protection experts are not entirely convinced by TikTok's commitments, however. Some points of criticism in the original complaint remain unresolved, the experts said.

This applies, for example, to TikTok's copyright clause, which grants the platform a very far-reaching licence to use the videos that any user posts on the platform.

In addition, there is no mechanism to protect young consumers from abuse by influencers when they buy "virtual coins" from TikTok. TikTok has also not made any commitment to stop personalised ads directed at children. – dpa

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