The Cyber Laws and e-security wing of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) on Wednesday send notice to TikTok and Helo app operators to respond to concerns that they were being used to commit anti-Indian and unlawful activities. The ministry has sent a list of questions and warned if the appropriate response is not received the app platforms may face a ban in India and face action as per the relevant provisions of the IT Act and other laws.
The notice has been sent with a long questionnaire covering a range of issues including unauthorised data sharing by the apps, the Platforms has become a hub for anti-national activities and the ‘Helo’ App having paid a huge sum for putting 11000 morphed political ads on other social media platforms
Flagging the concerns the ministry has stated that “the concerns raised are serious in nature and needs a detailed explanation” from the app platforms. The ministry has stated in the letter that “a detailed list of questions is enclosed herewith. You are hereby called upon to submit your response to the questions on or before 22nd July, 2019, failing which government may take necessary action to ban these apps.”
Update: TikTok and Helo have responded to the government letter and have issued a statement. “India is one of our strongest markets and we are happy to be part of the mainframe of Digital India in 15 Indian languages. In line with our commitment to India, we are investing $1 billion dollars in India over the next three years, with a strategic focus on developing technology infrastructure, establishing local partnerships and supporting initiatives such as the Skill India Program which we are proud to be assisting with already. Our continued success in India will not be possible without the support of our local community. We take our responsibilities to this community seriously and welcome this opportunity to fully collaborate with the Government to meet and exceed our obligations,” said a TikTok and Helo spokesperson.
The list of questions seeks a response from the apps whether TikTok and Helo are collecting excessive data and what data are being collected by the two. The government also has questioned the claims by the app owners that the data is stored in the U.S and Singapore only. In the questionnaire the ministry has asked whether the data was being stored in China too and how could they assure the govt of India that data of Indian users will not be transferred to any other foreign government or any third party or private entity in future also?
The govt has demanded information on whether the data is being shared with any third party and if so for what purposes?
The ministry’s strong action comes after complaints received from some agencies and a letter written to the prime minister by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS affiliate Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM). The Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) co-convener Ashwani Mahajan in the letter had requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday last to ban TikTok and Helo, claiming that these two Chinese social media applications had become a hub for “anti-national” content as they were exposing India’s youth to being influenced by “vested interests”.
Mahajan had stated that “In recent weeks, TikTok has become a hub for anti-national content that is being shared extensively on the application and which can rupture the fabric of our society. Helo was found paying Rs 7 crore for over 11,000 morphed political ads on other social media platforms.” He complained that some of these advertisements were using morphed pictures of senior Indian political leaders. Interestingly some BJP leaders also during the last Lok Sabha polls had written the election commission about the content on the apps
Mahajan had also demanded that the Ministry of Home Affairs ban all the Chinese apps, including TikTok and Helo, in the country. “As some segments of the Chinese establishment have negative intentions with regard to the sovereignty and integrity of India,” he said.