Time runs out for TikTok downloads as Google, Apple remove social media app from stores

CHENNAI: Chinese social media app TikTok is no longer available for download in India on online app stores of both Google and Apple following a government directive, marking the first instance of a ban on new downloads of a smartphone app in the country. Those who already have the app installed on their smartphones can continue using it.

The internet giants were ordered to remove the app from their online stores by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology on Monday, after a bench of the Madras High Court directed the government to prohibit the downloading of TikTok app in the country.

It also restricted media companies from telecasting videos made by using the application, calling the Chinese app “dangerous for children.” The high court has appointed senior advocate Arvind Datar as an independent counsel in the case to examine the impact of the app. It will hear the case next on April 24.

The app, popular among teenagers who use it to create and share short videos, was available on app stores of Google and Apple until Tuesday evening.

SC to Hear ByteDance Plea on April 22

TikTok, owned by Chinese internet major ByteDance, did not reply to ET’s queries on the development. Google and Apple did not respond to queries.

ByteDance has appealed against the HC directive in the Supreme Court, which will hear the case now on April 22.

Both the courts have refused to stay the ban on the order.

ET was the first to report that MeitY had written to the two US internet giants to block access to TikTok.

Legal experts are of the view that it is the Indian Parliament, rather than its courts, which must decide on the regulation of content on such apps, ensuring a framework to control the spread of unsafe and obscene content.

“Is the court the right forum to decide on such matters? If the executive or the parliament decides, the court can examine the legality of such an action. The court can advise the government to think about a certain amount of regulation,” said K Chandru, former Justice of the Madras High Court.

“A public interest litigation (PIL) is not a remedy for all ills. If they are going to entertain PILs in such matters, very soon it will become a bitter pill,” he said.

India blocked about 2,800 websites last year, according to a disclosure in Parliament in February.

TikTok, which counts India as one of its largest market, said it has 120 million active monthly users in the country. Out of the 188 million new users added in the January-March quarter, India accounted for 88.6 million, according to Sensor Tower, a market analysis firm.

TikTok said that it removed over 6 million videos that violated its “Terms of Use and Community Guidelines”, following a review of content generated by its users in India.

In February, the US Federal Trade Commission fined $5.7 million on the app to settle allegations of child privacy law violations. The app has been accused of collecting personal data from users under the age of 13 without seeking parental consent. This is the largest civil penalty the FTC has ever collected in a children’s privacy case. In July 2018, Indonesia imposed a ban and lifted it after TikTok agreed to censor “negative content”.