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EU opens probe of TikTok Lite, citing concerns about addictive design | TechCrunch


The European Union has opened a second formal investigation into TikTok, announcing Monday that it suspects the video sharing platform of breaking the bloc’s Digital Services Act (DSA), an online governance and content moderation framework.

The Commission also said it’s minded to impose interim measures that could force the company to suspend access to the TikTok Lite app in the EU while it investigates concerns the app poses mental health risks to users. Although the EU has given TikTok until April 24 to argue against the measure — meaning the app remains accessible for now.

The development shows the EU cracking down on a product launch it deems risky where it can show a platform has not followed expected procedure.

Penalties for confirmed violations of the DSA can reach up to 6% of global annual turnover. So ByteDance, TikTok’s parent, could face hefty fines if EU enforcers do end up deciding it has broken the law.

While the Commission hasn’t yet confirmed any breaches of the DSA this is the second probe it’s opened on TikTok after announcing an (ongoing) investigation into multiple aspects of its DSA compliance back in February. Since December X has also been under investigation over a range of DSA compliance concerns.

The EU’s first TikTok probe covers multiple issues including the protection of minors, advertising transparency, data access for researchers and the risk management of addictive design and harmful content. Hence it said the latest investigation will specifically focus on TikTok Lite, a version of the video sharing platform which launched earlier this month in France and Spain and includes a mechanism that allows users to earn points for doing things like watching or liking videos.

Points earned through TikTok Lite can be exchanged for things like Amazon gift vouchers or TikTok’s own digital currency for gifting to creators. The Commission is worried this so-called “task and reward” feature could negatively impact the mental health of young users by “stimulating addictive behavior”.

The EU wrote that the second probe will focus on TikTok’s compliance with the DSA obligation to conduct and submit a risk assessment report prior to the launch of the “Task and Reward Lite” program, with a particular focus on negative effects on mental health, including minors’ mental health. It also said it will look into measures taken by TikTok to mitigate those risks.

In a press release announcing the action, the EU said ByteDance failed to produce a risk assessment about the feature which it had asked to see last week — when it gave the company 24 hours to produce the document.

TikTok is regulated under the strictest regime of the DSA, which applies to around half a dozen larger platforms. This extra layer of risk mitigation requirements obliges them to proactively identify and mitigate systemic risks — such as addictive design that could harm users’ mental health.

The EU’s suspicion is ByteDance failed to do this before going ahead and launching TikTok Lite in the two EU markets: Since it failed to submit the risk assessment paperwork on April 18 the Commission wrote that it suspects a “prima facie infringement of the DSA”.

The regulation bakes in a regime of smaller fines for failures to produce requested information on time, as appears to have happened here. ByteDance could therefore face a penalty of up to 1% of its total annual income or worldwide turnover and periodic penalties up to 5% of average daily income or worldwide annual turnover specifically for this type of DSA compliance failure.

Although the Commission has not confirmed whether it plans to fine TikTok for failing to produce the risk assessment document on time as yet.

ByteDance was contacted for a response to the EU’s latest DSA enforcement. But as of press time it had not responded. Update: A TikTok spokesperson said: “We are disappointed with this decision — the TikTok Lite rewards hub is not available to under 18s, and there is a daily limit on video watch tasks. We will continue discussions with the Commission.”

It’s worth noting the EU’s press release raises specific concerns about “the suspected absence of effective age verification mechanisms on TikTok”, which is an area the Commission’s first TikTok investigation is looking into.

Commenting on the Commission’s enforcement action in a statement, Thierry Breton, the commissioner for the EU Internal Market, wrote: “Endless streams of short and fast-paced videos could be seen as fun, but also expose our children to risks of addiction, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, low attention spans… With our first DSA non-compliance case against TikTok still ongoing, the company has launched TikTok Lite which financially rewards extra screen time. We suspect TikTok ‘Lite’ could be as toxic and addictive as cigarettes ‘light’. Unless TikTok provides compelling proof of its safety, which it has failed to do until now, we stand ready to trigger DSA interim measures including the suspension of TikTok Lite feature which we suspect could generate addiction. We will spare no effort to protect our children.”

This report was updated with comment from TikTok; and to confirm the platform’s approach to age verification is being investigated by the EU.


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Taylor Swift's music is back on TikTok, despite platform's ongoing UMG dispute | TechCrunch


After 10 weeks of being absent from the platform, Taylor Swift’s music has returned to TikTok — or at least her more recent songs and “Taylor’s Version” cuts, since she owns those masters.

Taylor Swift’s music, and music from all artists signed to Universal Music Group, was pulled from TikTok when the two parties were unable to come to a renewed licensing agreement. UMG published a scathing press release accusing TikTok of trying to “bully” the label into accepting a deal worth less than its previous one. UMG framed its refusal to come to a deal with TikTok as a means of standing up for emerging artists.

“How did [TikTok] try to intimidate us? By selectively removing the music of certain of our developing artists, while keeping on the platform our audience-driving global stars,” UMG wrote. “TikTok’s tactics are obvious: use its platform power to hurt vulnerable artists and try to intimidate us into conceding to a bad deal that undervalues music and shortchanges artists and songwriters as well as their fans.”

TikTok did not respond to a request for comment.

UMG also represents superstars like Billie Eilish, BTS, Ariana Grande and Olivia Rodrigo, but Swift is in a unique position. After contractual disputes of her own, Swift has been re-recording her old albums to reclaim ownership of the songs. Her “Taylor’s Version” recordings are back on TikTok, but songs from records like “Reputation,” which doesn’t yet have a “Taylor’s Version,” are still absent from the platform.

The timing of Swift’s return to TikTok isn’t a coincidence. Next week, Swift will release her new album, “The Tortured Poets Department.” Even artists as huge as Swift are not immune to the necessity for social media marketing — and if fans can’t make TikToks using sounds from the new record, the album might be … slightly less ubiquitous? But the partnership is beneficial for TikTok too. With a fanbase like Swift’s, it’s inevitable that numerous audio trends will emerge from the album, and TikTok won’t want to miss out on that engagement, especially since Reels will have that music anyway.


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TikTok Shop expands its secondhand luxury fashion offering to the UK | TechCrunch


TikTok Shop, TikTok’s social commerce marketplace, is launching a secondhand luxury category in the U.K., putting it in closer competition with The RealReal, Vestiaire Collective, Depop, Poshmark, and Mercari, among others. The offering has already existed in TikTok Shop U.S. for over six months.

The new category allows customers in the U.K. to purchase pre-owned high-end clothing, designer handbags, and other accessories, all without leaving the TikTok app. At launch, only five U.K. brands are available, including Sellier, Luxe Collective, Sign of the Times, HardlyEverWornIt, and Break Archive.

Since launching TikTok Shop in 2022, the platform has sold around $1 billion or more worth of products. However, despite its success, some argue that TikTok Shop is ruining the short-form video-sharing app, claiming fakes and poor-quality products are flooding the marketplace. Counterfeits are the biggest risk when buying pre-owned luxury goods online, with even the largest e-commerce giants (Amazon, eBay, and others) facing authenticity issues.

Like all resale marketplaces, TikTok Shop has an anti-counterfeit policy that guarantees a full refund if a seller is proven to have sold a counterfeit product. Bloomberg recently reported that the company is in talks with luxury goods company LVMH to help crack down on counterfeiting.

All secondhand brands on TikTok Shop U.S. are required to have certificates from third-party authenticators. TikTok partnered with authentication services Entrupy and Real Authentication to ensure that designer handbags on the platform are genuine.

Meanwhile, a TikTok spokesperson told TechCrunch that the five U.K. brands all have their own in-house authentication process. They wouldn’t say when it would begin accepting other secondhand brands.

The launch of TikTok Shop’s secondhand luxury category is a strategic move to tap into the growing market of preowned luxury items. The secondhand luxury market is a thriving multibillion-dollar business, with an estimated $49.3 billion (€45 billion) worth of secondhand designer items sold worldwide in 2023.

Additionally, this expansion aligns with the increasing trend of people embracing preloved fashion, and it opens up new avenues for secondhand brands in the U.K. to reach a wider customer base. The popularity of secondhand fashion on TikTok is evident, with over 144,000 TikTok posts using the hashtag #secondhandfashion, which has garnered approximately 1.2 billion views.

Today’s announcement arrives on the heels of the U.S. House of Representatives passing a bill that requires ByteDance to sell TikTok or face a ban in the U.S., a bill that appears to be gaining support in the Senate. A ban would be a serious blow to American merchants selling on the app. According to the company, the short video-sharing app generated $14.7 billion for small- to mid-size businesses in 2023.




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Watch: TikTok and Meta's latest moves signal a more commodified internet | TechCrunch


The internet’s mega-platforms are slowly merging into a great blob of sameness, and even the hottest companies in the world are not immune from the trend. TikTok’s winning strategy to focus on short-form, vertical video has found fans amongst other internet platforms, and now TikTok is taking a page from its rival, books, reportedly borrowing from what made them popular.

TikTok is working toward launching a new app called TikTok Notes that will allow users to post images in an apparent bid to rival Instagram, a service best known for its static-photo-sharing feature. Instagram, of course, has expanded into video and stories itself, taking pieces of other services and incorporating them into its own product.

Instagram’s parent company Meta’s other services are frequent borrowers as well. As is nearly every social service you can imagine. Recall that great Stories Boom that led to everyone from Line to Spotify to Instagram to LinkedIn trying out the popular sharing format. If it works for one social media service, expect the rest to follow in some manner at some point — probably sooner rather than later.

There’s good logic behind the effort. The answer is why X wants to become a super app; the more a service can offer its userbase to do, the more time they may spend inside the app’s walls. Expanding a feature set can bolster engaged time, and therefore how much revenue a social media service can earn. At the same time, bloat is a real issue that can dilute a user experience and render an app, well, Facebook in time.

This theme — the slow commodification of digital services via sameification — is similar to why we’re seeing LinkedIn try to ape The New York Times’ gaming might, and to some degree why major platform companies in tech wind up trying to be good at everything: the never-ending need to grow revenue. Perhaps this is why your favorite app always feels more and more like an alien world as time passes. It will evolve away from what made it special, and unique, because sticking to those guns is not the way to create a service that the maximum number of people will use. For that, you need to become Facebook.


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U.S. House passes revised bill to ban TikTok or force sale | TechCrunch


The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill this afternoon that would require TikTok-owner ByteDance to sell the popular social media app or see it banned in the United States.

Efforts to ban TikTok go back to the Trump Administration, but the issue has been revived in recent months. The House already passed a similar bill in March — a bill that the Senate showed little interest in taking up. This new version expands the window for ByteDance to sell TikTok to nine months (compared to six months in the previous bill), as well as giving the president ability to grant a single, additional 90-day extension.

It sounds like the change has satisfied some Senate skeptics. Senate Commerce chair Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) told reporters Thursday that she’d suggested the extension, as it “assures that divestiture will more likely happen.”

The new bill was passed 360-58, with strong support from a majority of both Republicans and Democrats. It’s part of a larger package that includes foreign aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, and was likely included as a way for House Speaker Mike Johnson to attract more conservative support.

The Senate could take up the package this coming week, and President Joe Biden has said he supports the bill and will sign it. If that happens, TikTok is expected to challenge the bill in court.

Biden’s administration has been briefing lawmakers on what it says are the national security threats posed by the app — both as a source of data on American users for the Chinese government, and as a channel for that same government to push propaganda to Americans. On the other side of the aisle, House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Michael McCaul (R-Texas) described the app today as “a spy balloon in Americans’ phones” used to “surveil and exploit America’s personal information.”

When it became clear a TikTok bill was back on the table earlier this week, the company posted a statement arguing that the House is “using the cover of important foreign and humanitarian assistance to once again jam through a ban bill that would trample the free speech rights of 170 million Americans, devastate 7 million businesses, and shutter a platform.”

Civil liberties groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and American Civil Liberties Union and have also opposed previous attempts to ban the app.




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YouTube launches new Shopping features to help creators market products and grow their earnings | TechCrunch


YouTube announced on Tuesday that it’s launching new Shopping features that allow creators to curate shoppable collections, better plan their shoppable videos, quickly monetize older videos and more.

The launch of the new features come as TikTok Shop is seeking to take on YouTube Shopping and other competitors in the space. TikTok is reportedly aiming to grow the size of its TikTok Shop U.S. business tenfold, to as much as $17.5 billion this year.

YouTube is launching “Shopping Collections” to allow creators to curate products from their favorite brands for users to browse through. Creators can pick a selection of products based on a theme, such as an everyday makeup look or a capsule wardrobe. The collections will appear in a creator’s product list, Store tab and video description. At launch, creators will be able to make Collections on the Studio app on their phone. YouTube plans to launch the feature on desktop soon.

Image Credits: YouTube

In addition, YouTube is launching a new Affiliate Hub in its app to make it easier for creators to find information about the latest list of Shopping partners, competitive commission rates and promo codes. Creators will also be able to use the hub to request samples from top brands. YouTube says the idea behind the new hub is to make it easier for creators to plan their next shoppable video.

YouTube is also adding Fourthwall, a website builder that helps creators build shops, to its list of integrated platforms. By allowing users to connect their Fourthwall shop, YouTube is making it easier for users to create and manage their content directly in YouTube Studio. YouTube already offers integrations with Shopify, Spreadshop and Spring.

Image Credits: YouTube

Last year, YouTube launched features that allow creators to tag products across their video library in bulk based on products added to the video’s description. YouTube is now expanding this feature to all Shopping creators. The company notes that this feature can help creators earn more revenue from their older content if it’s still getting high traffic.

As part of Tuesday’s announcement, YouTube revealed that users watched over 30 billion hours of shopping-related videos in 2023. The platform saw a 25% increase in watch time for videos that help people shop on YouTube.


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TikTok starts testing its Instagram competitor TikTok Notes in Canada and Australia | TechCrunch


TikTok is rolling out its Instagram competitor, TikTok Notes, in select markets. The app is available on the Google Play Store and Apple App Store in Canada and Australia, the company said.

The company said on X that it is in the “early stage” of the app’s rollout. TikTok said that the app is “a dedicated space for photo and text content.”

“We hope that the TikTok community will use TikTok Notes to continue sharing their moments through photo posts. Whether documenting adventures, expressing creativity, or simply sharing snapshots of one’s day, the TikTok Notes experience is designed for those who would like to share and engage through photo content,” it said.

The company didn’t say much about the app’s features and functionality apart from the fact that users can log in with their existing TikTok account. Even the app’s description on the app store is pretty thin on details.

“TikTok Notes is a lifestyle platform that offers informative photo-text content about people’s lives, where you can see individuals sharing their travel tips and daily recipes,” the description on the app stores read.

The screenshots on the App Store listing suggest that the posts will appear in two-column grids on the home page. The screenshots also indicate that you can post multiple photos through a carousel post.

Earlier this month, TechCrunch reported that the Bytedance-owned company’s Instagram competitor is likely to be named TikTok Notes.

Notably, TikTok already allows image and text posts. However, the company wants to create a new space for this kind of post to compete with Meta’s apps like Instagram and Threads.




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ByteDance gets 24 hours to show EU a DSA risk assessment for TikTok Lite | TechCrunch


TikTok owner ByteDance is facing fresh questions about its compliance with the European Union’s Digital Services Act (DSA), an online governance and content moderation framework that puts a legal obligation on larger platforms to mitigate systemic risks in areas like youth mental health.

The EU’s latest concerns about TikTok’s DSA compliance center on the launch of TikTok Lite. This is a version of the video sharing app which recently launched (“test launched”, per TikTok) in France and Spain — letting 18+ year old users there earn points for certain in-app activities, such as liking content or following new creators. TikTok says these points can be redeemed for gift cards or “coins” that can be gifted to creators.

The reward-linked engagement feature looks to have triggered concern in the EU about potentially addictive design which could have a negative impact on young people’s mental health. The European Commission oversees platforms’ compliance with DSA system risk requirements.

In a press release announcing the request for information (RFI), the Commission said it’s asked TikTok for more details on the risk assessment it should have carried out before deploying the new app in the EU.

“This concerns the potential impact of the new ‘Task and Reward Lite’ programme on the protection of minors, as well as on the mental health of users, in particular in relation to the potential stimulation of addictive behaviour,” it wrote, adding that it’s also requesting info about the measures TikTok has put in place to mitigate such systemic risks.

TikTok has been given 24 hours to provide the risk assessment for TikTok Lite. It has until April 26 to provide other requested information, after which the Commission said it will analyse its reply and assess next steps, such as whether or not to open a formal investigation.

Reached for comment on the Commission’s RFI, a TikTok spokesperson said: “We have already been in direct contact with the Commission regarding this product and will respond to the request for information.”

ByteDance, which owns TikTok, is one of around two dozen larger online platforms that are subject to the strictest layer of DSA rules — requiring them to take steps to mitigate systemic risks use of their platforms could cause. Penalties for failing to comply with the regulation can reach up to 6% of global annual turnover which could lead to some hefty fines for TikTok for any confirmed compliance failures.

The wider impact of the pan-EU regulation is likely to be on platforms’ product design choices, with EU enforcers having powers that could potentially force the reform of entire business models if they’re found to have toxic impacts.

TikTok is already under investigation in the EU in relation to a number of DSA obligations, including in the area of protection of minors and the risk management of addictive design and harmful content, after the Commission announced a formal probe back in February. But the latest RFI suggests the EU is worried there are more issues of concern.

It’s particular interesting to see the Commission intervening so swiftly after an tentative product release — as the TikTok Lite app only appears to have been live in the two markets for a very brief period. The Commission says it launched this month. (And here, for example, is a Spanish YouTube video on the reward feature which was posted just under a week ago where the vlogger says the program for earning money “just by watching videos” has only just been made available, and so far only on some Android devices.)

It’s not clear whether TikTok conducted a DSA risk assessment for the new reward program ahead of launching TikTok Lite in the two EU markets. A TikTok spokesman did not respond when we asked about that. But the regulation’s focus on systemic risk essentially makes such a step obligatory for features that are likely to appeal to minors.

TikTok did tell us it requires TikTok Lite users to verify that they are 18 or older in order to collect points through their use of the app. Asked about the robustness of the age verification technology it’s using, its spokesman said the processes involved can include things like “submitting a selfie with a photo ID (e.g passport or drivers license), credit card authorisations etc”.

Other restrictions on the reward program TikTok highlighted are a maximum limit on rewards it said is “roughly” equivalent to €1 per day. It also said there’s a maximum daily video time limit for rewards of 1 hour — so, presumably, you can only earn points for one hour’s worth of video watching, after which you won’t accrue any more points that day.

How clearly such limits are communicated to TikTok Lite users may be one area of interest to EU enforcers as they ask the platform about its design choices.

Consumer groups in Europe have previously raised concerns about various aspects of TikTok’s platform design, including its use of virtual currency to create engagement incentives. Complaints raised back in 2021 were funnelled through the Consumer Protection Cooperation Network, with the Commission involved in encouraging a dialogue between the two sides. Then, in June 2022, the procedure culminated in TikTok offering a series of commitments — including pledging to boost transparency around its digital coins and virtual gifts.

However judging by the Commission’s oversight of TikTok’s approach to DSA compliance the platform may need to go further to satisfy enforcers of the rebooted EU Internet rulebook, which came fully into force this February — but with systemic risk elements expected to be respected as of late August 2023.


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Uber Eats launches a TikTok-like video feed to boost discovery | TechCrunch


Uber Eats is launching a TikTok-like short-form video feed to boost discovery and help restaurants showcase their dishes. Uber Eats’ senior director of Product, Awaneesh Verma, told TechCrunch exclusively in an interview that the new feed is being tested in New York, San Francisco and Toronto. The company plans to launch the feed worldwide in the future.

With this launch, Uber Eats now joins numerous other popular apps that have launched their own short-form video feeds following TikTok’s rise in popularity, including Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat and Netflix to name a few. TechCrunch also recently learned that LinkedIn has started experimenting with its own TikTok-like feed.

The new Uber Eats short-form videos are visible in carousels placed across the app, including the homescreen. Once you click on a video preview, you will enter into a vertical feed of short-form content that you can swipe through. You will only see content from restaurants that are close enough to deliver to you.

Verma says the feed is designed to replicate the experience of being in a restaurant in person and seeing people preparing food and being inspired to try something new. As you swipe through the feed, you may come across a video of an ice cream shop preparing a Nutella milkshake, or a video of an Indian restaurant packing rice separately from curry so it doesn’t get soggy by the time it gets delivered to your house.

“The early data shows people are much more confident trying new dishes and trying things that they otherwise wouldn’t have,” Verma said. “Even little things like being able to see texture, and the details of what a portion size looks like, or what’s in a dish, has been really inspiring for our users.”

Image Credits: Uber Eats

Uber Eats notes that the videos aren’t ads, as the company isn’t charging merchants for the content placements.

Many restaurants run social media accounts on apps like Instagram and TikTok to reach new customers and showcase their food using short-form videos. By allowing merchants to share short-form videos directly in the Uber Eats app, the company is helping restaurants reach customers directly as they decide what to order. As for consumers, many people already use social media to discover new places and dishes to try, so Uber Eats likely hopes that its new feed will encourage users to try to find inspiration directly within its own app.

Some users might not see the launch as a welcome addition to the app, as they may feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of different short-form video feeds in popular apps. While it may make sense to have short-form video feeds in entertainment and social media apps, the introduction of one in a food-delivery app may not be a favorable choice for some.

Verma also shared that in order to further support merchants, the company has revamped its Uber Eats Manager software and added personalized growth recommendations. The software is now capable of encouraging restaurants to grow their business by doing things like running a promotion on a certain dish or adding photos to menu listings.

In addition, the company is going to launch an entirely new app for restaurant managers this summer that is designed to make it easier for restaurants to be more proactive on the go. For instance, the app could alert a restaurant manager that their store is having issues or that they may want to boost sales with new ads.

Uber Eats announced on Monday that it now has more than 1 million merchants around the world on its platform, across 11,000 cities in six continents.


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TikTok's Instagram competitor likely to be named TikTok Notes | TechCrunch


TikTok’s upcoming Instagram competitor app for sharing photos could be named TikTok Notes, according to screenshots posted by users. TikTok also confirmed the app was in development.

Over the last few days, TikTok users have been getting pop-up notifications about a new TikTok Notes app to share photos.

The notification says that the company is soon launching “a new app for photo posts” called TikTok Notes and users’ existing photo posts will be shared on the app. Users can choose to not share their image posts to the new app too.

TikTok confirmed that it is working on the app but specified that it is not available yet.

“As part of our continued commitment to innovating the TikTok experience, we’re exploring ways to empower our community to create and share their creativity with photos and text in a dedicated space for those formats,” a TikTok spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Separately, a TikTok-owned URL — photo.tiktok.com (internet archive link) — shows a placeholder marketing image with the text “Opening in TikTok Notes.”

Image Credits: TikTok

Last month, code and language found in the TikTok APK file — an installable file format for Android — suggested that the company has been working to launch a photo-sharing app called TikTok Photos.

However, the latest pop-ups within TikTok suggest that the company might be considering another name for the app.

Both TikTok and Meta are fiercely competing over social media space. While the ByteDance-owned app is prepping to launch an app related to photo-sharing, Meta rolled out a vertical-first video player for Facebook.

TikTok is also experimenting with different formats like 30-minute videos and even text posts like X and Threads.




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