PS12543 - Italian Competition Authority: investigation initiated against TikTok in response to the 'French scar' challenge


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According to the Authority, TikTok has failed to implement appropriate mechanisms to monitor the content published by third parties and to enforce the Guidelines of the companies owning the platform, which include the removal of dangerous content inciting suicide, self-harm and poor nutrition.

The Italian Competition Authority has initiated an investigation into TikTok Technology Limited, an Irish company which is active in the social media sector through the TikTok platform and is responsible for relations with European users. The proceedings also involve the British and Italian subsidiaries.

The Authority opened the investigation following the growth of numerous videos of young people who attempt acts of self-harm on the platform; one recent example thereof is the "French scar" challenge that became viral. The TikTok platform is very popular and has continuously growing user numbers, especially among minors. Its design is simple and immediate, both in terms of uploading and publishing videos and in terms of viewing content, which is proposed to users through an algorithmic profiling process based on browsing habits, likes and page follows.

The Italian Competition Authority accused TikTok of failing to implement appropriate monitoring mechanisms to supervise the content published by third parties, according to diligence requirements, especially when particularly vulnerable users such as minors use the service.

According to the Authority, the companies have not enforced their own Guidelines, which prescribe the removal of dangerous content related to challenges, suicide, self-harm and poor nutrition. Lastly, the Italian Competition Authority criticised the use of artificial intelligence techniques that may unduly influence users. Specifically, the criticism made reference to the algorithm used by the platform, which exploits user data to customise advertising and to show content similar to previously viewed and liked content.

Today, the Italian Competition Authority, with the assistance of the Special Antitrust Unit of the Italian Finance Police, carried out an inspection at the Italian headquarters of TikTok.

Rome, 21 March 2023