The Cyber Laws and e-Security wing of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) on Wednesday fired a stern notice to the operators of TikTok and Helo app platforms to respond to concerns that they were being used to commit anti-Indian and unlawful activities. The ministry has sent a list of questions and warned that if appropriate response is not received the app platforms may face a ban or action as per the relevant provisions of the IT Act and other laws.
The notice has been sent along with a long questionnaire covering a range of issues including unauthorised data sharing by the apps, the Platforms turning into a hub for anti-national activities and the Helo app paying a huge sum for putting 11,000 morphed political ads on other social media platforms
Flagging the fears, the ministry stated that "the concerns raised are serious in nature and needs a detailed explanation" from the app platforms.
The ministry has asked the app makers to submit their response to the questions on or before 22nd July, 2019, failing which government may take necessary action to ban these apps.
The list of questions seek response from both TikTok and Helo on whether they are collecting excessive data and the type of data that is being gathered. The govt also has questioned the claims by the app makers that the data is stored in US and Singapore only. In the questionnaire the ministry has asked whether the data was being stored in China too and how could they assure the govt of India that the data of Indian users will not be transferred to any other foreign government or any third party or a private entity in future.
Meanwhile, TikTok and Helo, in a statement against MeitY's notice, said that they will be investing $1 billion in India over the next three years, with a strategic focus on developing technology infrastructure, establishing local partnerships and supporting initiatives such as the Skill India Program.
The ministry's strong action comes after complaints received from some agencies and a letter written to the prime minister by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS affiliate Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM). In a letter, the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) co-convener Ashwani Mahajan had requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to ban TikTok and Helo, claiming that these two Chinese social media applications had become a hub for "anti-national" content as they were exposing India's youth to being influenced by "vested interests".
Mahajan had stated that "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. Helo was found paying Rs 7 crore for over 11,000 morphed political ads on other social media platforms."
He complained that some of these advertisements were using morphed pictures of senior Indian political leaders. Interestingly some BJP leaders had also written the election commission about the content on the apps during the last Lok sabha polls.
Mahajan had also demanded a ban all the Chinese apps, including TikTok and Helo, in the country. "As some segments of the Chinese establishment have negative intentions with regard to the sovereignty and integrity of India," he said.