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

Chinese video-sharing apps TikTok and Helo could face a ban by the Indian government over accusations they are being used to promote anti-national activities.

The government has issued notices to both apps, which are owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, and have sent a set of 21 questions and threatened to ban them if they do not respond by July 22.

The action by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology follows a complaint by Swadeshi Jagran Manch, a think tank close to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, to the Prime Minister.

The organization’s national co-convener Ashwani Mahajan alleges that the two platforms were exposing India’s youth to being influenced by “vested interests.” “In recent weeks, TikTok has become a hub for anti-national content that is being shared extensively on the application and which can rupture the fabric of our society,” Mahajan said.

He also alleged that the Helo app had paid for over 11,000 political advertisements on other social media platforms and some of them were using morphed pictures of senior Indian political leaders, Asian Age reports.

The ministry’s questions included queries about data collection and storage. It has also sought assurances that the data of Indian users is not being transferred at present and will not be in the future, to any other foreign government or any third party or private entity.

In a joint statement TikTok and Helo said they will fully cooperate with the Indian authorities and thanked the public for their support. India is a prominent market for TikTok and Helo.

“We take our responsibilities to this community seriously and welcome this opportunity to fully collaborate with the government to meet and exceed our obligations,” the statement said.

It also said that an investment of US$1 billion will be made in India over three years and the company will focus on developing technology infrastructure, establishing local partnerships and support the Indian government’s Skill India initiative.

In April this year, TikTok was banned for over a week, for the presence of pornographic videos and other objectionable content.

Also Read: Indian court lifts ban on TikTok app

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