TikTok bends to comply with the EU’s Digital Services Act

TikTok seems ready for new Digital Services Act rules to keep users safe online in the EU.
16 August 2023

“Photobombed by the dog.” by Trïpps is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

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  • TikTok is making its algorithm optional for users in the European Union to comply with the Digital Services Act.
  • It agrees to laws that ban targeted advertisements for 13 to 17 year olds.

Next week, a law policing Big Tech in the European Union comes into force, starting the clock on a process expected to force companies like Amazon, Google, Meta, TikTok, and Twitter, among others, to make their platforms more open and interoperable. The Digital Services Act addresses social media’s societal harms by requiring companies to watch over their platforms for illicit content more aggressively or risk billions of dollars in fines.

To recall, the European Parliament and all EU member states reached a political agreement on the Digital Services Act in late 2022. The legislation had set a timeline for companies under the Very Large Online Platforms (VLOPs) category to crack down on hate speech, disinformation, and other harmful and illegal material on their platforms. 

 “If the platform or a search engine has more than 45 million users (10% of the population in Europe), the Commission will designate the service as a very large online platform or a very large online search engine. These services will have four months to comply with the obligations of the DSA, which includes carrying out and providing the Commission with their first annual risk assessment,” the Commission stated.

Timeline for Digital Services Act as set by the European Commission.

Timeline for Digital Services Act as set by the European Commission.

On April 23, 2023, the European Commission named a list of 19 tech platforms required to comply starting August 25, 2023. The list includes 17 VLOPs and 2 Very Large Online Search Engines (VLOSEs).

  • Alibaba AliExpress
  • Amazon Store
  • Apple AppStore
  • Booking.com
  • Facebook
  • Google Play
  • Google Maps
  • Google Shopping
  • Instagram
  • LinkedIn
  • Pinterest
  • Snapchat
  • TikTok
  • Twitter
  • Wikipedia
  • YouTube
  • Zalando

Meanwhile, the VLOSEs listed included Bing and Google Search. What comes after the designation is that the companies are required to comply, within four months, with the complete set of new obligations under the Digital Services Act. Overall, the new law is also helping make Brussels a trailblazer in the growing global movement to clamp down on tech giants. 

In light of the requirements by the European Commission, TikTok’s owner ByteDance and other large online platforms will be required to police illegal content on their platforms, prohibit certain advertising practises, and share data with authorities. TikTok quickly ensured they were on the good side of the block. 

On August 4, the video-sharing platform released new measures and features for European users to comply with the incoming Digital Services Act.

How will TikTok abide by the EU Digital Services Act?

Before releasing its new guidelines, TikTok agreed to a voluntary “stress test” last month. The result was that EU industry chief Thierry Breton recommended “more work” was needed for the firm to be fully compliant.

“In the coming weeks, we are introducing an additional reporting option for our European* community that will allow people to report content they believe is illegal, including advertising,” TikTok said in a blog posting.

That means making this as easy as possible, and people can choose from categories such as hate speech, harassment, and financial crimes. “We will provide a guide to help people better understand each category,” TikTok noted. As for content reported as being illegal, it will first be reviewed against the platform’s ‘Community Guidelines’ and removed globally if it violates TikTok’s policies

If it does not, TikTok has a new dedicated team of moderators and legal specialists to assess whether it violates the law, and “we will restrict access to the content in that country only,” TikTok added. Under the DSA, it will inform European users about a broader range of content moderation decisions. 

“For example, if we decide a video is ineligible for a recommendation because it contains unverified claims about an election that is still unfolding, we will let users know. We will also share more detail about these decisions, including whether the action was taken by automated technology, and we will explain how both content creators and those who file a report can appeal a decision,” the blog post reads.

TikTok also allows its European users to turn off personalization for their feed to meet the Digital Services Act requirements. “This means a user’s For You and LIVE feeds will instead show popular videos from both the places where they live and around the world, rather than recommending content to them based on their interests.”

When using a non-personalized search, users will see results of popular content from their region and in their preferred language. Their Following and Friends feeds will continue to show creators they follow, but in chronological order rather than based on the viewer’s profile.

One of the most significant changes made to cater to TikTok’s European demographic is how it’ll protect teens’ privacy. Firstly, TikTok said accounts for those under 16 are private by default, and their content cannot be recommended in For You feeds. European users aged 13-17 will no longer see personalized advertising based on their activities on or off TikTok. “People already have control over the ads they can see, and they can toggle personalized ads on or off in their settings,” TikTok concluded.