TikTok users are being targeted with potentially harmful weight loss products as the company continues to expand its in-app shopping feature, even though weight control/management items are supposedly “strictly not allowed to be promoted or shared” on the marketplace.
If a user wanted to purchase a product displayed on TikTok prior to this rollout, they would be directed off-platform to buy from that company’s website; now, TikTok Shop allows users to buy directly on the app. TikTok began testing its U.S. e-commerce feature in November 2022 and “has attempted to woo sellers with discounts and subsidized shipping.” According to a Bloomberg report, TikTok is aiming to bring in $20 billion in merchandise sales this year.
Users are clearly not supposed to be able to search for weight loss products on TikTok Shop, as the platform blocks word searches like “weightloss” and “fat burn.” However, a slight modification of those words (just dropping the last letter of each) returns an array of allegedly prohibited products
Merchants are selling TikTok users creams, pills, and miscellaneous other products that claim weight loss or fat burning powers. These products are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and unregulated weight loss products can pose serious — and sometimes fatal — health risks to consumers.
One merchant even listed at-home “lipo shot” injection kits that include 10 insulin “neddles,” compression wrap, and mystery serums.
These products feature words like “fat burning” or “weight loss” in their title, which means they violate TikTok's guidelines prohibiting the sale of such items, suggesting TikTok is not thoroughly vetting items in its marketplace.
This isn’t the first time TikTok has profited from weight loss scams at the expense of user safety. However, as the platform’s e-commerce feature continues to grow, it’s critical that TikTok adopt a proactive approach to enforcing its own policies and improve its efforts to detect and remove products that could potentially harm vulnerable users.