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TikTok insists it complies with all data protection laws after being banned in India

By | Published on Tuesday 30 June 2020


TikTok has insisted that it does not share any user-data with foreign governments after it was included on a list of 59 mobile apps with Chinese links that were banned by the Indian government yesterday. The boss of TikTok’s Indian division says he now hopes to meet with government representatives to discuss the ban.

The government in India cited national security concerns when it published its list of the 59 banned apps, which have now been removed from the Apple and Google app stores in the country. The order comes amid increased political tensions between India and China, where a long-running border dispute resulted in a deadly confrontation between the two country’s military earlier this month.

A wide assortment of apps were among those banned, with Tencent’s QQ Music also on the list. These apps were “stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorised manner to servers which have locations outside India”, a statement from the country’s Ministry Of Electronics And Information Technology said.

The alleged sharing of this data, and “its mining and profiling by elements hostile to national security and defence of India, which ultimately impinges upon the sovereignty and integrity of India, is a matter of very deep and immediate concern which requires emergency measures”.

Although the ban is very much linked to the current political tensions between the two countries, it also capitalises on wider concerns over whether or not the Chinese authorities have access to data from apps and platforms owned by Chinese companies.

TikTok in particular – given its status as a global phenomenon – has had to contend with and respond to an assortment of regulator concerns around the world, and especially in the US. As the app has grown in popularity there have been various criticisms about how it gathers, stores and handles user-data.

With regard to any allegations that that user-data might fall into the hands of Chinese authorities – and when responding to another common allegation that the Chinese government can censor content on the TikTok platform – its owner, China’s Bytedance, has always been keen to stress that the global TikTok business is kept totally separate to the Chinese version of the service, which goes by the name Douyin.

India is a key market for TikTok, so the ban will have a significant impact on the company. But it will also hit those Indian creators who have built audiences and, in some cases, businesses on the platform. TikTok India’s head Nikhil Gandhi was keen to big up those positives yesterday, insisting: “TikTok has democratised the internet by making it available in fourteen Indian languages, with hundreds of millions of users, artists, storytellers, educators and performers depending on it for their livelihood, many of whom are first time internet users”.

As for the Indian government’s criticisms, he added: “TikTok continues to comply with all data privacy and security requirements under Indian law and has not shared any information of our users in India with any foreign government, including the Chinese government. Further, if we are requested to in the future, we would not do so. We place the highest importance on user privacy and integrity”.

TikTok is talking about the ban as an “interim order”, adding that it will meet with government officials “to respond and submit clarifications”. TikTok users and creators in India will be hoping that those clarifications might be enough to get the ban removed.

Other regulators around the world will likely be scrutinising the Indian government’s claims closely. Because, while the latest chapter in a long-running border dispute is likely the real reason for the ban, some experts reckon that some of the data concerns being used to justify the move, in relation to at least some of the banned apps, are legitimate.