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Clock maybe ticking for TikTok, others in India

April 13, 2019 10:00 IST

According to official sources, various states are contemplating bans on TikTok, Kwai, LIKE and other such apps over the next few months, on the worry that these platforms encourage  child pornography, nudity and the spread of fake news, report Karan Choudhury and Neha Alawadhi.

Illustration: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com

Popular Chinese video apps such as TikTok, Kwai, LIKE and a host of others might be on borrowed time in India. 

The Madras high court’s direction on Thursday, April 4, to the central government for a ban on TikTok is the first indication in this regard of what seems likely over the coming months. 

Highly popular in tier-III cities and towns, with an estimated 300-plus million users, these apps are now on the radar of the home and information technology ministries, after a slew of complaints. 

 

According to official sources, various states are contemplating bans over the next few months, on the worry that these platforms encourage  child pornography, nudity and the spread of fake news.

“We have received a lot of complaints from southern states, including Tamil Nadu, as well as West Bengal and Assam in the east. We are monitoring the situation and if the need be, we will ban some of these apps. Also with elections around, we do not want to take any chances,” said a senior home ministry official.

The Madras high court said TikTok was “encouraging pornography”. The order also directs the media from telecasting videos made by using the app.

According to IT ministry officials, misuse of these portals has been immense, given their popularity in the smaller cities and towns. With many there only recently acquainted with technology, their susceptibility to organised online porn networks or fake news is thought to be more.

“While they claim they have moderators, a lot which can be described only as porn and bawdy content is allowed on these portals. Children as young as 10 are posting videos and there is no one to moderate them,” said an IT ministry official.  

Sector experts say, though, that banning such apps is not a long-term solution. 

“Banning a particular app might reduce circulation of content to some extent. (However) Most of these applications are hosted out of servers in China or outside India, although section 75 of the IT Act provides extra- territorial jurisdiction,” said Salman Waris, managing partner at TechLegis Advocates & Solicitors. 

Some within the industry were of the view that the ban was appropriate given the content hosted on TikTok. 

“It is encouraging to see the Madras high court taking on Chinese platforms like TikTok that are known hubs for inappropriate content and which use gullible Indian children as test cases for their AI tools. The court has in essence done what the government has failed to do in recent months to ensure safety on the Internet,” said an official at a social media platform.

Experts would like more checks and balances at these platforms. 

“The technology now exists to let individuals securely prove their age online. Using digital identity technology, individuals can share specific details -- just their verified age, date of birth or even an ‘over 18’ attribute. This ensures only those of the appropriate age can access the platform and its content, whilst protecting their privacy and personal information,” says Shantanram Jonnalagadda, country head in India for Yoti, a London-based digital identity service entity.

After the high court order, the company which issued TikTok had said: 'We fully comply with the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011. We are currently awaiting the official order and once received, we will review and take appropriate action. Maintaining a safe and positive in-app environment at TikTok is our priority. We have robust measures to protect users against misuse, to protect their privacy and digital well being.' 

Helena Lersch, global public policy director of the short-video sharing platform, had earlier said they had a strong content moderation mechanism.

“We have robust measures in place. We have reporting mechanisms, community guidelines; we only allow content that follows community guidelines. We forbid hate speech, violent content, pornographic content, minors. So, the moment we are made aware of this content, we are taking it down with a team that works on that 24x7. We have a large content moderation team in place,” she had said. 

Karan Choudhury and Neha Alawadhi in Bengaluru
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