Tiktok ban lifted; win for Bytedance but needs to course correct quickly: experts

Chinese short form video sharing app, TikTok that was banned on the Playstore and Apple Store following a decision by the Madras High Court on April 18th is available for download once again on those platforms.

In a statement, Tiktok spokesperson said, “We’re glad about this decision and we believe it’s also greatly welcomed by our thriving community in India, who use TikTok as a platform to showcase their creativity.  We’re grateful for the opportunity to continue serving our users better.

While we’re pleased that our efforts to fight against misuse of the platform has been recognized, the work is never “done” on our end.  We’re committed to continuously enhancing our safety features as a testament to our ongoing commitment to our users in India.”

Read why the TikTok was banned in India

During the 10-day ban, TikTok’s parent company Bytedance reported that it was recording huge losses every day due to the app being banned for download in India. Google search results also indicate that many users tried to install the app from third party sources other than Google Playstore or the Apple Store.

Independent industry bodies such as the IAMAI has explicitly stated that “It would be a major roadblock to the growth of digital India and impede FDI in digital if intermediaries were to be banned quite arbitrarily by the courts in the country.”

“The complainant should have approached the government for redressal first before approaching the courts and the court should have ideally asked the platform to remove the “offending content” than ban the entire app. It is a classic case of throwing the baby with the bathwater”, the association concluded.

Industry experts are in agreement that the ecosystem is too big for such tactics to have any lasting impact on the security of users.

According to Sowmya Iyer, Founder and CEO of DViO Digital, “The issue is that there are no restraints being followed when it comes to the consumption and usage of apps, and especially that of TikTok. Instead of banning it altogether, the real issues at hand need to be identified and corrective measures implemented. For example, with the use of AI we can detect content that is inappropriate or offensive and automatically take it off the platforms. The government needs to make sure TikTok complies with certain policies because today if this app is banned, there will be 50 other ups within the week to take its place. And more and more people will become slaves to its consumption"

However, there is a belief that the nature of the TikTok app that supports virality of content may also encourage users to upload scandalous content.

Ashish Patkar, Founder & CEO, Monk Media Network opines, “The whole mechanic of the platform made it so easy to upload content and is one of the reasons it picked up massively in a fame crazy country like India, where you can do literally anything and gather truckloads of followers. I believe this is one area of vulnerability that platforms like Tik-tok will always be exposed to and with very little they can do to keep a close eye on the quality of the content that's being uploaded daily, without compromising the smooth & easy user experience on the platform.”

While third party content hosting applications continue to make promises to moderate or flag inappropriate content, Heena Tickoo, Director – Client Servicing, DCMN India says that accountability of these platforms is still very much in flux. She says, “The platforms need to be held responsible for the content posted on them by third party users. Tech companies are making profits of the order of billions of dollars, so it only makes sense they keep their house in order. Promises to educate users and tweaks like ‘forwarded tag’ on WhatsApp hardly make the cut. The measures that need to be taken are the following, and in this order exactly:

  1. Preemptive measures to identify inappropriate content before it is posted using automated tools and artificial intelligence algorithms
  2. Proactive measures to identify and remove inappropriate content already on their platforms from the years of content uploaded
  3. Immediate action on flagged content or content asked to be removed by government/authorities

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