ByteDance, the Chinese firm that owns Helo and video sharing app TikTok, has announced that it plans to establish a data centre in India that will store Indian users’ data locally. This comes at the heels of growing political rancour against the Chinese firm-owned app TikTok for its alleged data sharing practices. Thus far, the company had stored the data of Indian users in US and Singapore.

ByteDance claims that TikTok has 120 million monthly active users (MAUs) in India, while Helo has about 20 million.

Tick tock goes the Indian political clock on TikTok

  • On July 17, MeitY’s Cyber Laws and e-Security wing issued a notice to TikTok and Helo, asking them to respond to concerns that they were being used to commit anti-India and unlawful activities. These notices were sent in response to RSS affiliate Swadeshi Jagran Manch’s letter to the prime minister that called for a ban on the two apps, claiming that TikTok had become a hub for “anti-national content” that was capable of disrupting the “fabric of our society”.
  • The PMO has also reportedly asked MeitY to monitor the functioning of TikTok in the wake of numerous ocmplaints against it within and without the country.
  • In early July, two Lok Sabha MPs — TDP’s Jaydev Galla and BJD’s Pinaki Mishra — called for a ban on TikTok and Helo for allegedly spreading fake news in India, and for collecting user information and data.
  • On July 1, Shashi Tharoor said that there were reports that the Chinese government received data from TikTok through the wholly state-owned China Telecom and described it as a “national security issue”. ByteDance categorically refuted Tharoor’s claims and said that “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”.
  • In April 2019, TikTok was banned in India by the Madras High Court, which said it was 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.
  • 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. Since then, TikTok has introduced an age gate in India that disallows users younger than 13 from creating accounts on the platform; moderated content; and created a Safety Centre — a resource that gives users tools and information to protect themselves online — in 10 Indian languages.

US, UK too are after TikTok

While TikTok introduced an age gate in India, USA’s Federal Trade Commission (FTC) levied a $5.7 million fine on TikTok for illegally collecting personal information of children below 13 years of age without parental consent. Prompted by this, the UK started investigating TikTok in February 2019 for how it handles children’s personal data, and whether it prioritises the safety of children on its platform.