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TikTok under investigation in Italy over ‘dangerous content’ spreading on platform

Video app is facing a ban in a variety of countries

Andrew Griffin
Tuesday 21 March 2023 13:17 GMT
The TikTok Inc. building is seen in Culver City, California
The TikTok Inc. building is seen in Culver City, California (AP)

TikTok is now under investigation over allegations that dangerous content are being spread on its platform.

The investigation will examine whether the company has sufficient ways of monitoring the content that is being spread on the platform, the Italian antitrust authority said.

The investigation was prompted by the “French scar” trend that has gone viral on the platform, it said. That sees users pinch their skin in order to create lines that look like scars, and has prompted warnings from dermatologists that it could lead to permanent damage.

But it appears to have a broader remit. It will examine whether it is detecting and removing content that breaks its own rules, including videos that incite suicide, self-harm and poor nutrition.

According to the watchdog “adequate systems to supervise content published by third parties are lacking” and the app violates TikTok‘s guidelines which provide for the removal of dangerous content.

The antitrust body also takes issue with the exploitation of artificial intelligence techniques capable of “causing undue conditioning” of TikTok‘s users.

TikTok uses AI to power its “For You” feed, which is at the centre of the app. It watches users as they scroll through videos, with a view to showing them more content similar to that they have already liked.

The company has looked to shed more light on how the content in that feed is chosen, and the nature of the algorithm that powers it. But it is still a commercial secret and has led to fears that it could be used to promote dangerous or otherwise harmful content.

The probe involves TikTok‘s Irish unit, which is responsible for its European customers relations, as well as the British and Italian divisions, the watchdog said in a statement. Italy’s tax police visited the Italian headquarters of the app on Tuesday, it added.

TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, is facing tighter regulation, with growing international concern about the potential for the Chinese government to access users’ location and contact data.

The announcement from Italy came just a day before TikTok chief executive Shou Zi Chew will appear before Congress, amid suggestions that the app could be entirely banned in the US.

The company did not respond to a request for comment on the investigation.

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