TikTok, a video-based app, is the latest fad that has given parents and teachers cause for concern after the popularity of dangerous online dares such as the Blue Whale and Kiki challenges. The application is also a rage among Bollywood-crazed Indians who post videos while lip-syncing to songs or reciting movie dialogues. After the Madras High Court's appeal to ban TikTok, Google and Apple have blocked access to the hugely popular video app in India to comply with a state court’s directive to prohibit its downloads.
This measure was undertaken hours after a court in southern Tamil Nadu state refused a request by China’s Bytedance Technology (the app's parent company) to suspend a ban on TikTok, putting its future in one of its key markets (India) in doubt. The state court requested the federal government on April 3 to ban TikTok, as it encouraged pornography and made child users vulnerable to sexual predators.
Bytedance Technology has appealed against the stay on the ban, stating that it would harm free speech. "We are committed to continuously enhancing our existing measures and introducing additional technical and moderation processes as part of our ongoing commitment to our users in India," it said in an emailed statement.
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TikTok, which allows its users to create and share short videos with special effects, has become popular in India, but has been criticised by several people who claim that its content is inappropriate. There have been numerous instances where the app users have suffered extreme repercussions after using the app. While trying to make a TikTok video that included fake firing, a guy got shot his left cheek as the pistol unintentionally went off. In February this year, a daily wage worker was allegedly killed by his friend in Tiruvallur district of Tamil Nadu for uploading an abusive video targeting another community, resulting in tension and unrest in the village.
The world’s current most downloaded iPhone/Google app has also come under fire from cybersecurity experts for a lack of privacy settings, only days after hundreds of Hong Kong children were found exposing their identities on the platform. Despite its parent company being a tech pioneer valued at more than US$20 billion, protections for users of TikTok pales in comparison with rivals Facebook and Instagram.
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However, can the app itself be blamed for its misuse? Experts have advocated taking the awareness and sensitisation approach than imposing a blanket ban altogether. Faisal Kawoosa, Chief Analyst at Gurugram-based market research firm techARC, claims that the easy and inexpensive availability of the Internet and increased smartphone penetration has contributed to TikTok's popularity and other apps in the country. "Banning is no solution. If you can't download it from the app store (which is authentic), you will encourage illegal downloads which are even more dangerous," said Kawoosa.
With a reported 500 million subscribers worldwide, India is the biggest market for the app, comprising almost 40% of global downloads. TikTok earlier released a statement saying that it had faith in the Indian judicial system and was 'optimistic about an outcome that would be well received by millions' of its users. It did not comment further on the judge’s decision. However, the firm welcomed the decision to appoint a senior lawyer to assist the court in upcoming proceedings.
The state court has requested written submissions from Bytedance Technology in the case and has scheduled its next hearing for April 24.
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