Biju Janata Dal (BJD) MP Pinaki Mishra has asked TikTok to clarify whether or not it is an intermediary, prompted by ShareChat’s removal of TikTok videos from its platform after it received copyright notices from TikTok. “Are you then liable for the content on your platform? Which creators do you have exclusive rights over? Have you shared a list of such exclusive creators with the government? Have any of your creators published any video that violates Indian law?” Mishra asked TikTok.

Mishra has sent a questionnaire (attached below) to TikTok, asking it about the impact of its exclusive agreement with its content creators on its intermediary status. He also asked TikTok if it had “an information-sharing agreement with China Telecom, an arm of the Chinese government”.

Here are the other questions he asked:

  • What are the steps TikTok has taken to remove hate speech from its platform?
  • Why TikTok and Helo wanted 45% more permissions than other similar applications, citing a study by a cybersecurity company?
  • Why Bytedance-owned Helo was advertising on Facebook using morphed photos of Indian political leaders?
  • How many fact checkers does TikTok have in India?
  • How much does TikTok spend on advertising, instead of creating jobs?

Mishra’s questions about TikTok’s intermediary status come at the heels of ShareChat’s letter to the government seeking clarification on the intermediary liability status of platforms such as TikTok. ShareChat had sent this letter in response to TikTok’s takedown notices. In its takedown notice to ShareChat, TikTok had claimed exclusive copyrights on certain content due to contractual arrangements with the content creators.

Pinaki Mishra’s call for a ban on TikTok

While speaking in Lok Sabha earlier on July 4, Mishra and Jaydev Galla, a TDP MP, called for a ban on Bytedance-owned Chinese platforms TikTok and Helo, alleging that the company was 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 [Editor: “aggregated”?] by‍ them?”

Highlighting the Swadeshi Jagran Manch letter, Mishra also said that the support of the Chinese government enables Chinese companies to underbid or undercut prices in telecom sector tenders. “They are sharing all their data with the Chinese companies as well as with the Chinese government,” he added.

TikTok’s numerous battles with the Indian government

Here are the main arguments that have been made against TikTok in India:

  • Chinese companies have a close relationship with the Chinese government: RSS affiliate Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) wrote a letter to the prime minister on July 13, calling for a ban on the TikTok and Helo. The organisation argued that the apps were exposing young people of the country and influencing them for “vested interests” at an early stage. It also noted that ByteDance paid “influencers” to run campaigns promoting products, issues and ideologies. It also said that these applications under the garb of social media platforms circumvent domestic rules that exist to protect national security.
  • Bytedance apps transfer data to US and China: “A study found that on an average, these apps transfer data to around seven outside agencies, with 69% of the data being transferred to the US. TikTok sends data to China Telecom; Vigo Video to Tencent; BeautyPlus to Meitu; and QQ and UC Browser to its parent owned by Alibaba,” SJM said in its letter.
  • Bytedance’s paid influencers can allegedly impact the democratic process: Congress MP Shashi Tharoor anticipated SJM’s claims against TikTok on July 1 in Parliament. He informed the Lok Sabha of the $5.7 million fine by US regulators on TikTok for illegally collecting data on children, and said that ByteDance TikTok and Helo, who run a network of “paid influencers”, can “impact our democratic process”.
  • TikTok is a hostile place for children: In April 2019, Nagalakshmi Bai, the head of the KSCW (Karnataka State Commission for Women), called for a ban on Tiktok becuase it encouraged pornography. She said that the videos that children using the app make are overtly sexual in nature, which is a reason for concern. “We are worried about the ill-effects the app could have on young minds. Recently, there were incidents in Bengaluru and Mumbai involving children, where a teenaged boy sexually assaulted his younger sister. Apps like these are a reason that women are objectified,” she added.
  • TikTok was banned by the Madras HC for harming children: Before Karnataka took up virtual arms against TikTok, 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.
  • TikTok causes cultural degradation: On February 12, blaming TikTok for causing degradation of Tamil Nadu’s culture, Nagapattinam MLA Thamimun Ansari raised a request in the state Assembly to ban the app. Ansari said that he had raised the issue because TikTok was acting as a platform for heated debates inimical to law and order and sharing of sexually-explicit material. He also said that the app was ripping families apart.