TikTok, the popular video creating and sharing app has been removed from the Google Play Store and Apple App Store in India. This comes after a ban on downloading of the app by Madhurai bench of the Madras High Court, which had ordered the central government to ensure this. ByteDance, the company which owns TikTok, had even approached the Supreme Court seeking a stay on the ban, but the top court had refused to intervene and said it would listen to the matter on April 22.
On April 16, the Madhurai bench of the High Court appointed Senior Advocate Arvind P Datar as amicus curiae in the matter to assist the court and said it would hear the petition on April 24 for further hearing. The original order of the court was issued on April 3.
The Petition to ban TikTok
The petition was filed to ban TikTok on the grounds that the social network platform was “degrading culture and encouraging pornography besides containing explicit disturbing content and causing social stigma and medical health issue between teens.”
The petition also talked about how the app was harming children, and even gave instances of how some children had allegedly committed suicide because of the app. The petition claimed children who used the app were vulnerable as it exposed them to sexual predators and alleged that the app was violating privacy of users, including these children.
Madras High Court’s order on TikTok
On April 3, Justice N Kirubakaran and SS Sundar of the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court passed an interim order based on this petition, prohibiting the download and use of the video-sharing app TikTok, citing inappropriate content– including pornography and accessibility to children as the primary reasons.
It also directed the government to prohibit the downloading of the app and also prohibited media from telecasting videos made using the TikTok platform. The court also asked the government to answer whether it will enact a statute like the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of the US to prevent the children from becoming cyber/online victims.
TikTok approaches the Supreme Court
TikTok approached the Supreme Court (SC) asking for the order to be set aside. In its petition ByteDance, the Chinese publisher behind TikTok argued before the SC that the High Court’s ex-parte order is arbitrary and illegal and if the ban is not lifted, it would cause irreparable loss to the company and give a significant advantage to their competitors.
TikTok also argued that its platform is only an intermediary and cannot be held liable for the actions of third-party users on the platform, arguing for safe harbour under the IT ACT intermediaries rules. It added that the company is in compliance with the law and that it could have been directed to monitor problematic content instead of banning the entire platform. It also said that a very minuscule proportion of TikTok content was considered inappropriate or obscene.
Supreme Court order and centre’s direction to Google and Apple
The Supreme Court refused to stay the High Court saying that it is an interim order and the case is already listed before the court for a hearing on April 16. The bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Sanjiv Khanna directed the Madras High Court to consider the objections against the ex-parte ban and has listed the SLP (special leave petition) for further consideration on April 22, taking into account the nature of action taken by the High Court in its April 16 hearing.
It was reported that the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY)on Monday had asked Google and Apple to block the app following the Supreme Court’s refusal to stay the original Madras HC court directive on April 3.
Madras High Court appoints Amicus Curiae
The Madras High Court refused to stay its ban on the download of video-sharing mobile app TikTok on Tuesday. However, the bench of Justice N Kirubakaran and Justice SS Sundar has directed the appointment of senior advocate Arvind Datar as independent counsel in the case to examine the implications of the app. The next hearing date is April 24.
In a statement, Bytedance 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 million monthly active users in India to continue using TikTok to showcase their creativity and capture moments that matter in their everyday lives.”
Google and Apple remove TikTok
Google and Apple appear to have taken down the Chinese short-video mobile application TikTok from their app stores, both the companies have blocked the app from their respective app stores. A Google spokesperson told news agency IANS, “As a policy, we don’t comment on individual apps but adhere to the law in countries we operate in.”
TikTok in India: What lies ahead, what the users do, other apps
People who have already installed TikTok on their mobiles can still use the app. While the Madras High Court will hear the case on April 24, the Supreme Court will consider TikTok’s appeal to lift the ex-parte ban on April 22.
TikTok issued a statement saying that due to interim order the TikTok app has been taken down from online app stores as of April 17, but the ban does not affect use of the app. TikTok stated that “during this time, you can continue using TikTok” as you used to be.
While the app has been removed on the Google Play Store and Apple App Store, but Android users might still have their way around the download by sideloading the app. Third-party Android app stores like 9apps have TikTok listed on their portal as well.
According to 2018 data, TikTok has a user base of 500 million of which 39 per cent are from India. Interestingly, in its statement on the latest HC order, TikTok revealed that it has 120 million monthly active users in India.
(updated on April 18 with TikTok’s statement)