SJM seeks Ban on Chinese Social Media Apps
New Delhi: Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) appealed to the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi to ban the Chinese applications including ‘TikTok’ and ‘Helo’ for national security reasons. In a letter to Prime Minister on July 13, the SJM said the Government of India should take necessary steps to ensure that the Indian startups are not hurt by the Chinese companies which are flush with cash and harm the Indian startup ecosystem, our data sovereignty and most importantly our national security. “To prevent such applications from operating in India, we humbly request the creation of a new law that requires testing and also regulation to protect our national security as well as the privacy of Indian users from countries with inimical interests to India. Until such a law is notified, all such Chinese applications including TikTok and Helo should be banned by the Ministry of Home Affairs,” the SJM letter said.
The letter said ByteDance, a Chinese company, has been operating TikTok and Helo apps in India. These apps are exposing Indian youth to being influenced by vested interests at an early stage. News reports widely report that ByteDance pays to the ‘influencers’ to run campaigns promoting products, issues and ideologies. As a result, they under the cover of social media platform, run news, views and opinion platforms. While we have extensive regulation on foreign funding in media, these applications under the garb of social media platforms circumvent our domestic rules that exist to protect national security.
Chinese technology companies have historically shared a close relationship with the Chinese government. Studies have noted that as recently as March 2019 they have shared data with ‘China Telecom’,
a state-owned Chinese telecommunication company. Their recent press statement after statements in the Indian Parliament notes that they do not have any ‘existing partnership’ with China Telecom. However, they do not clarify if they have any ‘existing partnerships’ with other state-owned entities or other arrangements, which allow the Chinese government to directly or indirectly get access to data of foreign citizens.
ByteDance’s track record with protecting privacy, especially those of children is poor. The Federal Trade Commission of the United States just this year penalised the company’s USD 5.7 million for illegally collecting information. In recent weeks TikTok has become a hub for anti-national content that is being shared extensively on the application. This can cause ruptures in the fabric of our society. We have been notified the videos advocating views that promote religious violence, anti-Harijan sentiments, and mistreatment of women. There have also been various instances of deaths being caused due to TikTok across India, the letter added.
The study found that on an average these apps transfer data to around seven outside agencies, with 69% of the data being transferred to the US. TikTok sends data to China Telecom; Vigo Video to Tencent; BeautyPlus to Meitu; and QQ and UC Browser to its parent owned by Alibaba. In 2019, ‘Helo’ was found to be paying for over 11,000 morphed political ads on other social media platforms worth Rs. 7 crore. Some of these ads were using morphed pictures of senior Indian political leaders. Functionaries of the BJP wrote to the EC during the last general election raising these concerns. Currently, India does not have any regulation to ensure that applications provided on the Android or Apple Play Store are monitored and illicit activity is prevented.