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  • Marijan Hassan - Tech Journalist

TikTok fined $10.9 million by Italian regulator days after US Congress voted to have it banned or divested

Italian regulators have handed TikTok a hefty $10.9 million fine over what they term as the platform’s continued facilitation of content that endangers users' mental and physical well-being.

The penalty was given after a year-long investigation and it echoes a growing global sentiment regarding the platform's impact. Early this month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill requiring that TikTok separate itself from its Chinese owners or get completely banned in the U.S.

Central to Italy’s decision to fine TikTok lies a deep-seated worry about how TikTok's algorithms amplify harmful challenges, particularly those targeting minors and vulnerable groups.

One such challenge that was highlighted is the "French scar" challenge, which prompted users to share videos of self-inflicted facial scarring, revealing a dark underbelly of viral trends that can lead to physical harm.

The Italian Competition Authority (AGCM) criticised TikTok for its inadequate measures to curb the spread of such content, pointing out the platform's failure to fully enforce its guidelines, which purportedly position TikTok as a safe space.

AGCM highlighted the insufficiency of TikTok's guidelines, particularly in safeguarding adolescents who may struggle to discern reality from fiction and are prone to emulate group behaviour.

The Italian regulator also criticised TikTok's recommendation system, saying it was based on "algorithmic user profiling." This mechanism tailors content to individual users with the aim of boosting engagement and advertising revenue.

Such practices, the regulator said, foster undue user dependence on the platform, potentially exacerbating addiction and harmful behaviour.

The Italian fine adds to TikTok's mounting legal woes in Europe, with the European Commission launching its investigation under the Digital Services Act (DSA).

The probe seeks to ascertain whether TikTok's lax age verification, privacy protections, and addictive qualities violate European standards. Additionally, regulators are scrutinising the platform's advertising practices and its handling of minors.

The European Commission has also expressed its concern over TikTok's algorithmic design, which it says leads users down "rabbit holes" of potentially harmful content.

As regulatory scrutiny intensifies globally, TikTok finds itself at a crossroads, facing mounting pressure to overhaul its practices to prioritise user safety and well-being.

Whether these measures will suffice to address the platform's deep-rooted issues remains to be seen.


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