TikTok vanishes from Google, Apple app stores in India after ban

TikTok had been downloaded more than 240 million times in India, app analytics firm Sensor Tower said in February. (AFP)
Updated 17 April 2019
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TikTok vanishes from Google, Apple app stores in India after ban

  • TikTok is hugely popular in India but some politicians say its content is inappropriate
  • The company employs more than 250 people in India and had plans for more investment as it expands the business

NEW DELHI: The Chinese video app TikTok is no longer available in Google and Apple app stores in India after a state court prohibited its downloads, a setback for developer Bytedance Technology’s efforts to tap users in a key market.
TikTok, which allows users to create and share short videos with special effects, is hugely popular in India but some politicians say its content is inappropriate.
A court in southern Tamil Nadu state asked the federal government on April 3 to ban TikTok, saying it encouraged pornography and warning that sexual predators could target child users.
The federal government sent a letter requesting Apple and Google to abide by the state court’s order, according to an IT ministry official.
Google blocked access to TikTok in its Play store in India to comply with the court’s directive, a person with direct knowledge told Reuters on Tuesday. The app was not available in Apple’s app store on Wednesday.
Google said in a statement it does not comment on individual apps but adheres to local laws. Apple did not respond to requests for comment.
A spokesman for TikTok in India declined to comment on the app’s removal, saying the matter was still in the courts.
The company had faith in the judicial system and was “optimistic about an outcome that would be well received by” its millions of users in India, he added.
TikTok had been downloaded more than 240 million times in India, app analytics firm Sensor Tower said in February. More than 30 million users installed the app in January 2019, 12 times more than in the same month last year.
Jokes, clips and footage related to India’s thriving movie industry dominate the app’s platform, along with memes and videos in which youngsters, some scantily clad, lip-sync and dance to popular music.
Bytedance challenged the state court’s ban order in India’s Supreme Court last week, saying it went against freedom of speech rights in India.
The top court had referred the case back to the state court, where a judge on Tuesday rejected Bytedance’s request to put the ban order on hold, K. Neelamegam, a lawyer arguing against Bytedance in the case, said.
The state court has requested written submissions from Bytedance in the case and has scheduled its next hearing for April 24.
Salman Waris, a technology lawyer at TechLegis Advocates & Solicitors, said the legal action against Bytedance could set a precedent of Indian courts intervening to regulate content on social media and other digital platforms.
In its Supreme Court filing, Bytedance argued that a “very minuscule” proportion of TikTok content was considered inappropriate or obscene.
The company employs more than 250 people in India and had plans for more investment as it expands the business, it said.


Twitter blocks accounts of Iranian state media outlets

Updated 21 July 2019
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Twitter blocks accounts of Iranian state media outlets

  • Twitter said the accounts harassed people linked to the Baha’i faith
  • The Baha’i faith is a religious minority that has long faced persecution in Iran

WASHINGTON: A day after Twitter suspended the accounts of several Iranian state media outlets, the social networking service said Saturday it acted after harassment of people linked to the Baha’i faith.
Amid soaring tensions in the region, heightened by Iran’s seizure on Friday of a British-flagged tanker, some of the affected media outlets had speculated that the suspensions were related to their coverage of the seizure.
But Twitter cited what it said was the coordinated and targeted harassment of people linked to the Baha’i faith, a religious minority that has long faced persecution in Iran.
It did not name the suspended accounts, and said it was continuing to investigate the matter.
“Account suspended. Twitter suspends accounts which violate the Twitter Rules,” read English-language messages on each of the Iranian media outlets’ accounts.
Mehr news agency, which is close to moderate conservatives in Iran, said its Farsi-language account appeared to have been blocked late Friday following its reports on the seizure of the tanker Stena Impero in the strategic Strait of Hormuz.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said it seized the Swedish-owned tanker for breaking “international maritime rules” in the strait, a chokepoint for around a third of the world’s sea-borne oil.
Mehr’s Farsi-language Twitter page was inaccessible on Saturday, along with those of the official IRNA news agency and the agency of the Young Journalists’ Club.
“Since last night and after seizure of a British tanker in the Strait of Hormuz the account of the Young Journalists’ Club and some other users have been suspended,” the YJC said on its website.
Mehr noted that its Mehr Diplomacy account, which publishes analysis and interviews on foreign policy, was also offline.
Another account taken down belonged to Ali Akbar Raefipoor, a hard-line public speaker.
None of the owners of the suspended accounts said they had been given any reason for the move by Twitter.
The micro-blogging platform is banned in Iran, but many officials still have accounts and people access them by using a virtual private network, or VPN, to bypass censorship.