It is open season on all short video services as well as social media apps, which, according to the government and the judiciary, are supplying inappropriate content.
While those who support freedom of internet on Wednesday criticised banning of TikTok from Google and Apple stores as an infringement of right to choose, sources in the government said the steps were taken only after repeated warnings on weeding out foul content fell on deaf ears.
The road ahead is going to be a tough one for TikTok and other similar apps as now the government is directly working with both Apple and Google to ensure they do not get any further downloads.
“The government at the moment may not be able to stop the already existing users from posting on the app but it has ensured that they do not get any further downloads. The decision to ban TikTok was taken only after repeated requests to take down objectionable content did not get the desired results. Videos of young children and other similar content was still available on their portal,” said a senior official in the IT ministry.
According to IT ministry officials, misuse of these portals has been immense, given their popularity in the smaller cities and towns. Many have become acquainted with technology in those areas in the recent past. Hence their susceptibility to organised online porn networks or fake news is thought to be more “Children as young as 10 are posting videos and there is no one to moderate them,” said an IT ministry official.
According to industry experts, essentially, there is an obligation on all service providers to ensure there is no illegal content on their servers or app according to the IT Act and TikTok was banned on basis of obscene content, which was prohibited under section 67 of the IT Act.
“While the order does set a precedent, it does not directly affect other similar apps as the relief sought was specific to TikTok. Right to free speech is not absolute and is subject to public order, morality. Though the order does set a precedent, all future cases shall be decided on a case-to-case basis and individual facts,” said Salman Waris, managing partner at TechLegis Advocates & Solicitors.
He added that while it does adversely affect the business of such companies, the ban is the result of a failure on part of these firms to “take all due care” to prevent illegal content from being uploaded and circulated on their platforms as obligated under the IT Rules. “Irrespective of the legal arguments, this controversy and the ban does adversely affect ease of doing business,” he added.
However, the Internet Freedom Foundation, in a letter to the IT Ministry, said that an urgent policy dialogue was needed on the issue. “At the very outset, we submit that wholescale “App Bans” are disproportionate. These are in contravention of fundamental rights, particularly the right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a). Any restriction on such rights needs to be ‘reasonable’, pursuant to a valid legal authority and as per grounds of the restriction prescribed under Article 19(2),” said Apar Gupta, executive director, Internet Freedom Foundation, in the letter.