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Italy investigates TikTok over 'dangerous content'

March 21, 2023

The Italian probe comes as the Chinese-owned video-sharing app battles growing restrictions in Europe and the US. The Netherlands has become the latest country to take aim at the app.

TikTok's logo on a mobile phone. Symbolbild
The app currently faces a flurry of bans and restrictionsImage: The Canadian Press/AP/dpa/picture alliance

Italy's competition watchdog has launched a probe into Chinese-owned social media platform TikTok over what it says is "dangerous content" that the app is failing to remove.

The Italian decision is the latest in a series of bans and restrictions targeting the app in Europe and the US.

It also comes as the Dutch government advised officials not to install the app on their work phones, following in the footsteps of other countries including Britain, Belgium and the US.

Why is TikTok being probed in Italy?

The Italian antitrust authority on Tuesday accused TikTok of breaching its own guidelines by failing to remove content related to suicide, self-harm and poor nutrition.

A recent face-marking challenge, dubbed "French scar," has taken the app by storm. The challenge involves pinching one's face until it bruises.

Does social media make us hate our bodies?

The Italian authority's investigation involves TikTok's Irish unit, which handles its European customer relations. The authority added that police also visited the app's Italian headquarters on Tuesday.

Bans on official phones

The social media giant has in tandem been struck with a series of bans recently.

On Tuesday, the Netherlands "immediately discouraged" central government employees from installing on their business phones apps from countries "with an offensive cyber program against the Netherlands and/or Dutch interests," citing cyber security fears.

Though it did not name TikTok, the memo is widely believed to affect the app, owned by Chinese company ByteDance. The national intelligence agency AIVD had already added China, alongside Russia, North Korea and Iran, to a list of countries where apps "carry a heightened risk of espionage."

The British and US governments also took similar measures, alongside the European Commission,the European Union's executive arm. And Britain's public broadcaster, the BBC, recommended that its employees remove the app from their corporate phones.

Also on Tuesday, Norway's youngest government member and Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl made the same recommendation. Mehl's own previous active TikTok use has previously gotten her in trouble with the public.

TikTok's Congress session

The growing pressure comes as the app's CEO Shou Zi Chew prepares to appear before US congressional lawmakers on Thursday. Chew is expected to be grilled about TikTok's privacy and data-security practices, as well as its alleged relationship with the Chinese government.

Addressing TikTok users, whom he estimated at around 150 million in the US alone, Chew said in a TikTok video that the hearing "comes at a pivotal moment" for the company.

"I'll be testifying before Congress this week to share all that we're doing to protect Americans using the app," he said.

Western governments fear the app threatens cybersecurity and data privacy, or could be used to promote pro-Beijing narratives and misinformation.

Why is TikTok so addictive?

No evidence has thus far emerged that the Chinese-owned app has turned over user data to the Chinese government.

However, the app acknowledged last November that some of its China-based employees could access European user data. It admitted a month later that employees had used the data to spy on journalists, in an effort to identify employees who leaked confidential information to the media.

rmt/nm (AFP, AP, Reuters)