Refusing to budge from its firm stand on social media companies, the Indian government has now ruled that Chinese social media apps with more than 5 Mn users need to have an office in the country.
A media report has said that the ministry of electronics and IT has proposed rules for “intermediary” apps, those that rely on users to create their content. The rules also mandate that these companies need to have a senior executive in India who can be reached for any legal issues.
The new rules also reportedly call for apps to deploy “automated tools . . . for proactively identifying and removing or disabling public access to unlawful information or content.”
S Gopalakrishnan, a senior official at the electronics ministry reportedly said, “What prompted our proposals is the problem with risky and criminal content. The things that worry us are who takes responsibility for the content? Who moderates it? Do we want those apps to be a vehicle for terrorism or pornography? No.”
The government has reportedly held discussions with ByteDance, the owner of TikTok and Helo, to discuss the regulations, the company may soon respond to the draft rules. The new rules may also direct the Chinese apps to store their data on Indian citizens within the country, rather than routing it back to China.
Rakesh Maheshwari, an official at the IT Ministry in charge of cyber law and cyber security also reportedly said that with the spread of fake news on such platforms, any security malware or snooping will be looked into.
The new rules of setting up an Indian office, senior officials and data storage in India are along the same lines on the rules for WhatsApp along with other payments companies which mandate storing of data locally under the new Reserve Bank of India guidelines.
The focus on Chinese social media apps comes as in 2018, Chinese apps including short video apps TikTok, Like and Helo being five out of the top 10 apps compared to two in 2017. TikTok, a social video app, has 39% of its users in India, and Like, which was the third-most downloaded app in India, counts 64% of its users as Indian.
Ahead of such regulations, on Tuesday (February 5), TikTok launched #SafeHumSafeInternet, an India specific campaign to highlight and discuss the importance of online safety, educate internet users of safety practices to follow, along with efforts that should be taken to promote online safety.
To ensure the safety of users, TikTok said it will combine technology with a robust content moderation team covering major regional languages in India.
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) had recently introduced the draft Intermediary Guidelines Rules 2018 that seeks to monitor the spread of fake news and child pornography content spread across social media platforms such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yahoo, WhatsApp.
The focus on Chinese social media apps looks to be a part of the same effort as this is not the first time the Indian government has taken note of the growing popularity of Chinese apps in India.
Earlier, the economic wing of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), had trained its guns on the increasing popularity of Chinese ecommerce players such as AliExpress, Shein and Club Factory. It alleged that these companies are delivering goods via couriers and postal gift shipments, bypassing and evading a range of Indian laws on payment gateways, custom duties and GST.
[The development was reported by Financial Times.]