The TikTok logo is displayed on a smartphone screen, Sept....

The TikTok logo is displayed on a smartphone screen, Sept. 28, 2020, in Tokyo, Japan. The European Union is looking into whether TikTok has broken the bloc’s strict new digital rules for cleaning up social media and keeping internet users safe. Credit: AP/Kiichiro Sato

LONDON — The European Union said Monday it is investigating whether TikTok has broken the bloc's strict new digital rules for cleaning up social media and keeping internet users safe.

The European Commission, the EU's executive branch, said it has “opened formal proceedings to assess" whether TikTok has breached the Digital Services Act, which took effect last year.

The DSA is a sweeping set of regulations designed to keep internet users safe online, including requirements to make it easier to flag harmful or illegal content like hate speech, give users alternatives to algorithmic recommendations and ban ads targeted at children.

The commission is focusing on whether TikTok is doing enough to curb “systemic risks” stemming from its design, including "algorithmic systems" that might stimulate “behavioral addictions." It said measures including age verification tools to stop minors from finding “inappropriate content” might not be “reasonable, proportionate and effective.”

“The protection of minors is a top enforcement priority for the DSA. As a platform that reaches millions of children and teenagers, TikTok must fully comply with the DSA and has a particular role to play in the protection of minors online,” Thierry Breton, the EU's internal market commissioner, said in a press release. “We are launching this formal infringement proceeding today to ensure that proportionate action is taken to protect the physical and emotional well-being of young Europeans.”

TikTok has “pioneered features and settings to protect teens and keep under 13s off the platform, issues the whole industry is grappling with," the company said in a statement. "We’ll continue to work with experts and industry to keep young people on TikTok safe, and look forward to now having the opportunity to explain this work in detail to the Commission.”

The commission is also investigating TikTok's privacy measures for minors, its transparency on advertisements, and whether it's giving researchers access to data.

The EU has deemed nearly two dozen of the biggest online and social media platforms including TikTok, as ones that deserve the highest level of scrutiny under the DSA and hefty fines if they fail to comply. The bloc is already investigating Elon Musk’s X, previously known as Twitter, for breaches including failure to curb the spread of illegal content.

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