One of the most popular app used by teenagers and children in India – TikTok has been taken down from Google and Apple on their respective app stores following directions of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to do so, after an order by the Madras High Court on April 3 to prohibit its downloads.

The app which was available in India until Tuesday evening is now longer available for downloads on both platforms. This move was taken to ensure a complete stop for further downloads of the application, but people who have already downloaded it will be able to continue using it on their smartphones. TikTok had been downloaded more than 240 million times in India and more than 30 million users installed the app in January 2019 which is 12 times more than January 2018. The China owned app has seen an exponential rise n the Indian market during this past year with 39% of its total users based in India.

Earlier the  Madras High Court had asked the Centre to ban the app after hearing a petition by senior advocate S Muthukumar which said that children using the app were vulnerable to exposure by sexual predators and also explicit and illegal content.

Children as young as 10 are posting videos and there is no one to moderate them,” said an IT ministry official.

There is an obligation on all service providers to ensure there is no illegal content on their servers or app according to the IT Act and TikTok was banned on basis of obscene content, which was prohibited under section 67 of the IT Act.

The ban is the result of a failure on part of these firms to “take all due care” to prevent illegal content from being uploaded and circulated on their platforms as obligated under the IT Rules.

– Salman Waris, managing partner at TechLegis Advocates & Solicitors to Business Standard.

 He added “Irrespective of the legal arguments, this controversy and the ban does adversely affect ease of doing business.”

On the other side of the ruling, The Internet Freedom Foundation, in a letter to the IT Ministry, said that an urgent policy dialogue was needed on the issue. Bytedance challenged the court’s ban order in the Supreme Court last week, saying it went against freedom of speech rights. In its Supreme Court filing, Bytedance argued that a “very minuscule” proportion of TikTok content was considered inappropriate or obscene. The top court had referred the case back to the state court, where a judge on Tuesday rejected Bytedance’s request to put the ban order on hold. The state court has requested written submissions from Bytedance in the case and has scheduled its next hearing for April 24. Till then TikTok download is unlikely to reappear.

At the very outset, we submit that wholescale “App Bans” are disproportionate. These are in contravention of fundamental rights, particularly the right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a). Any restriction on such rights needs to be ‘reasonable’, pursuant to a valid legal authority and as per grounds of the restriction prescribed under Article 19(2),”

said Apar Gupta, executive director, Internet Freedom Foundation, in the letter.

The company employs more than 250 people in India and had plans for more investment as it expands the business and was on its way to appoint a new India Head. Earlier during February the company had launched a campaign to promote online safety. It roped in social media celebrities such as Arjun Kanungo, Shirley Setia and Neha Kakkar on TikTok to talk about reporting hate speech and sexually explicit content, maintaining privacy online and avoid doing dangerous stunts to shoot videos.

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