TikTok has been warned by the European Union to change its practices and comply with new legislation before September 1st or risk facing penalties, including a ban on operating in the EU. This message was delivered by the European Commissioner for the Single Market, Thierry Breton, to TikTok’s CEO, Shou Zi Chew, emphasizing the need for the platform to ensure that its content is appropriate for a particularly young and vulnerable audience.

Commissioner Breton stated, “All networks and platforms are welcome, as long as they respect our rules. All the rules.” The message is not new, but it has never been so clear from Brussels. Just 10 days ago, TikTok’s VP of Public Policy for Europe, Theo Bertram, met with several EU officials including the Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager, the Commissioner for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová, and the Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders. Although they discussed the new legislation, challenges, and concerns, the tone was much milder. Bertram stated, “It is a priority for us to be prepared.”

The European Union’s Internal Market Commissioner, Thierry Breton, has criticized TikTok for not doing enough to protect its young audience from harmful content and data breaches. Breton stated that with a younger audience comes a greater responsibility for the platform, noting that it is not acceptable for users to be able to access harmful content and even death threats after watching seemingly harmless and entertaining videos. He also expressed concerns about reports of surveillance of journalists and the transfer of personal data outside of Europe.

Breton believes that the innocence that once made social media platforms like TikTok appear as a refreshing and fun way to interact has come to an end. He acknowledges that while they can be fun and engaging, they are also filled with “deadly challenges” such as viral and dangerous pranks that have cost the lives of teenagers worldwide. He also cited issues like cyberbullying, misinformation, particularly from Russia, manipulation of elections, promotion of unhealthy eating habits, data leaks, and the use of the platform for surveillance of journalists.

The criticism comes at a sensitive time for TikTok, as pressure from the United States is high due to concerns that the platform is being used as a Trojan horse by the Chinese government. Breton has communicated to TikTok’s CEO the need to intensify efforts to comply with EU legislation on data protection, copyright, and online platforms, specifically the Digital Services Act (DSA), which aims to create a safer digital space.

New EU Digital Services Act obligates platforms to reduce harmful content

The Digital Services Act (DSA), which came into effect in November 2022, stipulates new obligations for online platforms to reduce harmful content and counteract risks. The regulations will apply to large companies starting September 1st of this year. In case of non-compliance, companies face fines of up to 6% of global turnover, enhanced supervision, and even a ban from operating in the EU in case of repeated serious breaches that endanger the lives or safety of individuals.

As late as February 17th of this year, internet giants must submit updated data on their active users in the EU. Those with more than 45 million users in the EU will be classified as “very large online platforms” (VLOPs), and four months after receiving that label, they must conduct a mandatory proactive assessment of the risks their services may pose to society, including negative effects on minors, public health, physical and mental well-being. They must also implement effective measures to ensure privacy, security, and protection of minors.

“We do not arbitrarily decide to prohibit any entity or platform. On the contrary, we have clear and strict regulations, a predictable framework that both users and platforms need. This includes deterrent sanctions that we hope not to have to use, but unfortunately, we cannot rely solely on good will. We will not hesitate to take whatever is in our power to protect our citizens if audits do not show full compliance,” warns Breton.