Following the directions from India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) Apple has removed Chinese video sharing application TikTok from its App Store. The app was also removed from the Google Play Store yesterday.
This development comes right after the Madras High Court’s hearing on April 16 where it has refused to suspend the ban on TikTok. The court also appointed Advocate Arvind Datar as independent counsel in this case. The next hearing at the HC is set for April 24, while the Supreme Court will hear the matter again on April 22.
Responding to the Madras High Court order, TikTok said, “We welcome the decision of the Madras High Court to appoint Arvind Datar as Amicus Curiae (independent counsel) to the court. We have faith in the Indian judicial system and we are optimistic about an outcome that would allow over 120 Mn monthly active users in India to continue using TikTok to showcase their creativity and capture the moments that matter in their everyday lives.”
However, the company did not share a comment on the app being removed from Google Play Store.
Earlier, the Supreme Court had rejected TikTok’s plea to stay the initial Madras High Court order from April 3, which put a ban on the app’s downloads. Further, the SC ordered that the case will be heard again on April 22, to account for the latest Madras High Court order from April 16.
Holding Intermediaries Liable
TikTok is a social media platform primarily built around user-generated lip-synced videos played to licensed tunes, and shared by users. Its user base in India accounts for 39% of the 500 Mn global install base.
In its plea to the SC, TikTok had argued that it is an intermediary as defined under Section 79 of the country’s Information Technology Act, and it cannot be held liable for actions of third parties on the platform.
In December 2018, MeitY has released draft intermediary guidelines which proposed that the guidelines be amended to require intermediaries to trace and report the origin of government deemed defamatory messages within 72 hours of receiving a complaint.
Internet lobby group, the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) which represents majors such as Alphabet, Facebook, and Amazon said that the guidelines will jeopardise citizens’ fundamental rights to privacy and free speech. TikTok used this argument in its plea to the Indian Court.
Need For Legislation
Along with a ban on app downloads, the Madras High Court order had also prohibited media from telecasting TikTok videos and asked the government to enact a cyberbullying and anti-child sexual abuse law similar to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act or COPPA in the US.
In its ruling, the High Court had specifically noted that TikTok exposes children to pornography, and makes them vulnerable to sexual predators online.
In response to this HC order, Bytedance-owned TikTok had removed six million videos from its platform on April 13, for violating its community guidelines. The company had also introduced an age-gate feature for new users, which only allowed those aged 13 and above to login and create an account.