TikTok and Helo promise to collaborate after India threatens ban

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Image: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui
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Chinese video sharing apps have run into trouble in India, yet again.

Yesterday (July 17), the cyber laws and e-security arm of the ministry of electronics and information technology (MeitY) sent a notice to TikTok and Helo raising concerns about anti-Indian and unlawful activities occurring on the app, industry sources told Quartz. Both the apps are owned by Beijing-based ByteDance.

The ministry has sent a series of queries around data collection and storage and warned that, if the apps fail to respond by July 22, they may face serious actions, which may include a ban.

“Our continued success in India will not be possible without the support of our local community,” TikTok and Helo said in a statement to Quartz. “We take our responsibilities to this community seriously and welcome this opportunity to fully collaborate with the government to meet and exceed our obligations.”

The ministry’s strong action comes after complaints from various political outfits. “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,” Ashwani Mahajan, co-convener of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch—the economic wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)—had stated in a letter addressed to prime minister Narendra Modi, calling for the ban of apps like TikTok and Helo.

The latter “was found paying Rs7 crore ($1.02 million) for over 11,000 morphed political ads on other social media platforms,” she said.

Ahead of the Lok Sabha polls in April 2019, some Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders had also written to the election commission about the content on the apps, alleging China’s interference in the Indian elections.

But ByteDance has grand plans for India still. The company is investing $1 billion in India over the next three years, with a strategic focus on developing technology infrastructure and establishing local partnerships.

In April this year, TikTok was banned for over a week but came back with a bang on the back of cash incentives.

Yet, it is treading softly. It introduced new safety features like notification controls and a device management tool that will help users control logins to their devices to prevent hacks. It also launched an in-app quiz for users on security practices, aiming to teach them about topics like password safety, phishing attempts, and scam websites.