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EU Uses Digital Services Act to Crack Down on Addictive Algorithms

The European Commission has opened formal proceedings against Instagram and Facebook for “stimulat[ing] behavioural addictions in children.” The announcement came on Thursday, May 16, 2024. The commission had previously sent Requests for Information under the new Digital Services Act to Snap, Meta, Facebook, and Instagram.

The Digital Services Act (DSA) came into force in November of 2022. It gives the European Commission a strong set of tools for regulating digital services, platforms and marketplaces. Many of the DSA’s provisions deal with protecting legitimate commerce and discouraging fraudulent commerce through digital services. Similarly, a good deal of the act is about protecting elections from cyber attacks and disinformation campaigns.

Important provisions of the DSA concern the protection of minors and require transparency about algorithms used to suggest content to minors. It is these provisions that resulted in a Request for Information from the European Commission to Meta in October 2023 and again on March 1 of this year. EU Commissioner Thierry Breton announced the new investigation May 16 on X writing that, 

We are not convinced that Meta has done enough to comply with the DSA obligations — to mitigate the risks of negative effects to the physical and mental health of young Europeans on its platforms Facebook and Instagram.

EU Commissioner indicated the same focus in her comments accompanying the European Commission’s announcement: “We have concerns that Facebook and Instagram may stimulate behavioural addiction.” The European Commission opened formal hearings against TikTok in February for similar reasons.

Subsequently, TikTok launched TikTok Lite in the EU, which included a gambling-like reward program that has the potential to addict children to online gambling. Kids are rewarded for spending more time on the app and can use the rewards to make real-life purchases. TikTok Lite immediately suspended the rewards program after the EU opened a second formal proceeding against the company on April 22.

This latest enforcement action from the EU does not indicate any of the specific harms caused by “addictive algorithms.” Those harms are documented in a lawsuit filed by three school districts in Canada seeking over $3 billion in reimbursement for additional expenses incurred due to student smartphone addiction. 

The Toronto District School Board outlines some of the problems in its complaint:

  • Half of the students are not getting enough sleep because they are hooked on online platforms
  • Psychological distress
  • Body dysmorphia
  • Forcing the school to hire social workers and youth counselors
  • Costing millions per year

Under the DSA, online platforms are required to put in place appropriate measures to “ensure a high level of privacy, safety and security of minors on their services.” The current EU proceedings against Meta and TikTok are still gathering information. We’ll keep you posted on their progress on AddictionNews.

Written by Steve O’Keefe. First published May 21, 2024.


“Commission opens formal proceedings against Meta under the Digital Services Act related to the protection of minors on Facebook and Instagram, “European Commission, May 16,  2024.

“Facebook and Instagram suspected to be ‘too addictive’,” BBC, May 16, 2024.

“Questions and answers on the Digital Services Act,” European Commission, February 23, 2024.

“Commission sends request for information to Meta under the Digital Services Act,” European Commission, March 1, 2024.

“Statement by Commissioner Breton on the announcement by TikTok to suspend TikTok Lite’s reward programme in the EU,” European Commission, April 24, 2024.

Image courtesy PxHere, used under public domain.


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