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MPs seek ban on TikTok, Helo, saying it spreads fake news

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“In 2019, Facebook removed over 11,000 fake or morphed election related media shared by Helo in India. There was also widespread use of TikTok for campaigning by political parties during the recently conducted elections. We have also seen people spreading fake news and malicious content under the guise of freedom of speech, which is impacting our democratic process. Under the garb of a lighthearted application, TikTok and its affiliates pose a serious threat to India,” Jaydev Galla, TDP MP said in the Lok Sabha. Both Galla and BJD MP Pinaki Mishra, speaking in the Lok Sabha earlier this month, called for a ban on Bytedance owned Chinese platforms TikTok and Helo, alleging that the company is spreading fake news in India and collecting user information and data.

“We have‍ a‍ neighbour‍ who‍ is‍ hell-bent on aggrandizing [Editor: “aggregated”?] data and information from India and it is not going to be for the benefit of India and Indians,” said Mishra. “Two out of three Tiktok users are coming from India. So, can you imagine the amount of information and data that is being‍ aggrandized‍ [Edit: “aggregated”?] by‍ them?”

Highlighting the Swadeshi Jagran Manch letter, Mishra also said that any kind of under-bidding or under-cutting that takes place in these telecom sector tenders in India is done by these Chinese companies because they have the full support and the power of the Chinese government. “They are sharing all their data with the Chinese companies as well as with the Chinese government,” he added.

Speaking on the same issue on June 3rd, Galla explained that ByteDance owned TikTok has reportedly crossed one billion downloads across the globe including over 300 million users in India. Its applications collect 45% more information and permissions than any other apps allowing them intrusive access to the users. Bytedance which is also the parent company of Helo, runs a network of paid influencers, who receive Rs. 1 lakh per month.

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“So, I would request the Government of India to take appropriate action to ban TikTok and other such similar Apps in the country and to direct Google, Apple, Antroid etc., to remove such Apps from their platforms,” Galla concluded.

While speaking at the Lok Sabha, Misha also pointed out that the companies are paying people to become their users and become information providers. This act is also causing social tensions in the country.

“Eventually, it is very important that going forward, the Treasury Benches also recognise the fact that while today they may be beneficiaries of agencies like Tiktok and Helo because perhaps it is said that it was helpful in their winning the elections. Tomorrow, the very same agencies and instrumentalities would turn against‍ you.‍ Eventually,‍ we‍ are all going to be victims because we, as Indians, are going to be victims,” Mishra said.

TikTok under continuous scrutiny in India

This argument comes in right after Shashi Tharoor said in Lok Sabha that there were reports that the Chinese government received data from TikTok through the wholly state-owned China Telecom. Describing it as a “national security issue”, Tharoor urged the government to “introduce a comprehensive legal framework to protect fundamental right to privacy and save democracy of the country”.

However, the China-based company refuted Tharoor’s claims and said that “Indian users’ data is stored in the US and Singapore at industry-leading third-party data centres. TikTok does not operate in the People’s Republic of China and their government has no access to TikTok users’ data, nor does it have any existing partnership with China Telecom”.

Prior to this, TikTok was banned in India by the Madras High Court in April, alleging the app for spreading pornography, potentially exposing children to sexual predators, and adversely impacting its the mental health of its users. The ban, however, was lifted on April 24.

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The company was also called by the Election Commission of India ahead of the Lok Sabha elections earlier this year, to talk about taking down content that violated the ECI’s guidelines during the polls.

Following the Pulwama terror attack, Swadeshi Jagran Manch in February had called for a ban on Chinese social media apps and telecom companies after the country declined to help declare Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief a global terrorist.

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