The algorithms that companies like ByteDance, the owner of TikTok, deploy are immensely powerful. But it is difficult to argue that they serve the advancement of Chinese society. Image: AFP

Popular video sharing app TikTok has run into rough weather in India after a provincial court ruled against its downloads over concerns that pornographic and otherwise inappropriate content was being made available through the app. In compliance with the court ruling, Google and Apple have removed it from their app stores for India.

This is a setback for the Chinese startup ByteDance Technology Co Ltd, the seller of the app, as it sees India as a huge market. The app has already garnered 120 million active users here, a quarter of the worldwide total, with most of them being Google Android users.

Acting on a public interest litigation filed by a lawyer seeking a ban on the video-sharing app, the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court had on April 3 directed the state authorities to prohibit the download of TikTok app and barred the media from telecasting videos made using the app.

The Court said that the app was “inappropriate” for children and exposed them to several dangers. The judgment stated, “The dangerous aspect is inappropriate contents including language and pornography being posted in the TikTok App. There is a possibility of children contacting strangers directly . . . Without understanding the dangers involved in these kinds of Mobile Apps, it is unfortunate that our children are testing with these Apps,” Live Law reports.

Later on Tuesday, the Madras High Court did not accept the request of ByteDance to suspend the ban. The two-judge bench appointed a senior advocate as friend of the court to assist, and postponed the matter to April 24 for further hearing.

Meanwhile, ByteDance had approached India’s Supreme Court seeking to quash the Madras High Court order. It argued that the high court order was passed without hearing them. It pointed out that the mobile platform is an intermediary under the Indian Information Technology Act, and that it cannot be held liable for actions of third parties on the platform.

ByteDance contended that the app is for circulation of “fun” and “amusing” videos, and posed no threat to life, liberty and security of an individual. Only a minuscule percentage of videos – 0.0006 %- is flagged as inappropriate by users.

However, a Supreme Court bench, comprising Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Sanjiv Khanna, on Monday did not stay the Madras High Court’s order and asked the high court to hear the objections of Bytedance on April 16.

The Supreme Court Bench has listed the case for April 22, on which date the Court will be apprised of the developments at the Madras High Court.

TikTok, which allows users to create and share short videos with special effects, has become hugely popular in India. Jokes, clips, and footage related to India’s thriving movie industry dominate the app’s platform, along with memes and videos.

The ban has evoked mixed reaction on social media with some welcoming it, while others are of the view that it should be regulated, if need be, but not banned. Sufficient safeguards should put in place to prevent minors from watching objectionable content, they argue.

The app is already banned in Bangladesh and has been subjected to fine in the US for illegally collecting information on children, BBC reports.

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