Among the 106 Chinese apps banned in India to protect India’s safety, security, defense, sovereignty, and integrity, ByteDance owned TikTok tops the list. Going by the words of our Indian media, this ‘digital airstrike’ symbolizes the political dissemination and economic dissemination. While the absence of PUBG in the list was a sigh of relief for many, the ‘genuine’ TikTok content creators took a dig on this decision. Ironically, happy souls outnumber the sad ones. Meme makers will have to work a little harder, however.
On the contrary, we can’t ignore the fact that TikTok was though a hub of cringe content, but at the same time, it gave voice to the people living in rural areas. It served as a platform where they could express themselves. The app boasts of more than 2 billion downloads worldwide – one-third of that came from India.
The Ministry of Technology, in its official press release, said the apps were blocked on the concerns around safety and security of Indian cyberspace following the violent border clash of Chinese and Indian military clans in June.
The LAC face-off took place on 15th-16th June 2020 in the Galwan valley of Ladakh after the Chinese troops attempted to change the status quo forcefully. It triggered a violent situation where approximately 20 Indian soldiers were martyred in the course, while the Chinese army suffered over 43 casualties (not officially confirmed by China).
With the escalating tensions on the border, there were high possibilities that China could misuse the data collected from the apps owned by its home companies. Earlier, the US Senators Tom Cotton and Chuck Schumer had also raised concerns over the user data collected by this video-sharing platform and suggested a national security probe to meet the issue. As of this publication, the Trump administration warned TikTok to exit its US operations or be bought out by a US company (which Microsoft is presumably in the race to strike a deal).
The Indian government released the first list of 59 Chinese apps to be banned on June 29 as a retaliatory measure to stay on the front foot. On July 27, the government released a second list of 47 Chinese apps, which were mostly clones of the first 59.
A Take on China, TikTok, Economy and Democracy
TikTok inspired the ‘earning pockets’ of Indian users while helping them express their creativity and passion through the platform. It was equally accessible to everyone, including educators, performers, storytellers, and artists, irrespective of their socioeconomic levels, gender, nationality, ethnicity, and gender. In addition, it did democratize the world of the Internet as it featured over 12 Indian languages.
The Indian government ban is a severe blow to the ‘real’ content creators, but it also took away the Chinese traders’ and investors’ confidence. The Indian economy, which was already devastated due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has received yet another dent from this move, although the impact may be minimal.
With 119 million active users and 277.6 million downloads, India’s share in ByteDance’s (mother Company of Tiktok) earnings was 0.03% of the total global revenue. In the short term, the ban will have almost no impact on China’s economic condition. Ministry of Corporate filings highlight that the platform generated $479,000, which is around INR 3.4 crore in the operational year 2019. The situation is far from rosy in comparison to the United States of America, which has 165 million downloads, with $86.5 million in revenues in FY 2019.
Nevertheless, the ban can be regarded as an excellent way of political showmanship. Furthermore, if we look at the bigger picture, it’s undoubtedly a severe blow to China’s economy even if the financial impact is not much. India even surpassed China in terms of TikTok downloads. While China accounted for 196.6 million downloads, or 9.7 percent -(not including third-party Android store installs), India accounted for 277.6 million. As such, India is a significant market for the app.
This ban may serve as an inspiration for other countries like the US, which has expressed privacy and security concerns around the Chinese apps as they may not be in compliance with Chinese Intelligence Law 2017. As per Article 14 of the law, irrespective of the claims of Chinese companies (of not sharing the data), they have to comply with the ‘relevant’ requests and ‘cooperation’ of its government. Article 16 states that “intelligence officials may enter relevant restricted areas and venues may learn from and question relevant institutions, organizations, and individuals and may read or collect relevant files, materials or items.”
In addition, China doesn’t favor free media and free speech because of its communist leanings. It has total control over both print and social media to keep track of its people if need be. Moreover, the Chinese communist party doesn’t allow any other social media network within its own country. TikTok should remain banned worldwide until social media networks like YouTube, Google, and Facebook aren’t allowed freely in China.
What’s the Way Forward?
First off, while the immediate impetus for India’s actions comes from the border clashes, yet banning may not be the ultimate solution for the death of our soldiers. Even though it’s a small act, it still plays a crucial role in achieving something and bigger.
More importantly, the government should undertake initiatives to educate citizens rapidly on computer science skills and encourage both the citizens and companies to build large scale apps to lower the reliance on apps from abroad. This would also complement government’s “Make in India” campaign.
-Japneet Kaur (One of the Prize Winners of Article Writing Competition 2020 in the 25-44 Years Age Group)
Picture Credits: Reuters