All about TikTok, the Chinese app in the eye of a storm in India

Modi government's headache over TikTok, the Chinese video-sharing app, shows no sign of subsiding.

Following a court ruling to ban the download of the app that is making available "pornographic and inappropriate contents", the government now has its task cut out.

A PIL had alleged that the app from ByteDance, a Chinese company, was encouraging paedophiles and that the contents were very disturbing. Children who used TikTok were vulnerable and may get exposed to sexual predators, it had said.

India media has now been ordered not to telecast video clips made with TikTok, which many say are making children addicted to it. Countries like Bangladesh and Indonesia have already banned the app.


The TikTok files
For the uninitiated, TikTok is an app for making and sharing videos. The app has hundreds of millions of subscribers — some reports peg the number at over 500 million — from all over the world, including millions of Indian youngsters.

TikTok allows users to create and share short videos. One can navigate through videos by up & down scrolling. There are a sizeable number of tools for users: filters, readymade sounds to go with your video, etc. It’s very easy to create a TikTok video, not just because of these tools but because of the copious prompts it gives the user.

Here's a story that'll make it amply clear.
It goes: "You can select from an enormous range of sounds, from popular song clips to short moments from TV shows, YouTube videos or other TikToks. You can join a dare-like challenge, or participate in a dance meme, or make a joke. Or you can make fun of all of these things."

Basically, the app allows content of less than 60 seconds to be created and shared with millions of users.


How TikTok makes its billions
The app is known as Douyin in China. It was launched in China in September 2016 under the name Douyin, and a year later introduced in overseas markets as TikTok.

The business model of TikTok, like most such apps, comprises two primary components — advertisers and users. Its revenue primarily comes from ads and in-app purchases by users.

TikTok has consistently been among the most downloaded apps in a number of major markets, including the US. According to various reports, the app is available in over 70 languages across the world. It runs on both iOS and Android platforms.

You pay nothing for downloading and using TikTok. The app mints its billions from your data that you surrender to it. Also, don't forget the engagement time angle — advertisers pay TikTok bagfuls of money for your eyeballs.


The govt's choices
The court ruling has put the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (Meity) in a somewhat difficult situation. It is now studying the Madras High Court ruling, which it thinks would be unimplementable.

There is another niggle as well. "Rather than the government getting involved at this stage, it would be appropriate for the affected party to appeal the matter," the ministry said.

Any concrete steps are yet to be taken. The government has not yet asked Google to block the app — downloaded more than 200 million times in India thus far — on its play store.


Why a ban may not stand scrutiny
The court ruling has three parts. It (a) prohibits downloading the app, (b) bans TikTok videos from being aired on TV, and (c) wants to know if the govt would bring in a statute on the lines of Children Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

Privacy activists, however, have found a few chinks in the court's stand. They say the court has issued these directions without sufficient legal reasoning.

According to legal experts, it would be better to regulate TikTok rather than banning the app completely. "The key would be to regulate this transaction to ensure that TikTok has the right incentives to build safeguards and innovate,” said an expert from the National Law School.