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India queries Chinese app TikTok after call for ban by Hindu group
[NEW DELHI] India's IT ministry has asked Chinese video app TikTok, one of the world's most popular, to explain how it collects user data and creates awareness for safe use of its platform, according to government officials and a document seen by Reuters.
TikTok allows users to create and share short videos with special effects. It has been downloaded by nearly 300 million users in India, out of more than 1 billion downloads globally, according to analytics firm Sensor Tower.
The queries from India's IT ministry come after a Hindu nationalist group close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) called for a ban on TikTok, alleging that its developer, Beijing Bytedance Technology Co, had a poor track record on privacy protection.
Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, the economic wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) group, had previously criticised the TikTok's content and said the app was "against Indian culture and morality".
On Sunday the RSS wrote to Mr Modi to reiterate its call for a ban on both TikTok and another Bytedance app called Helo.
The RSS was the key founder of the BJP and has people it nurtured in top positions in the government, including Mr Modi himself.
Several Indian lawmakers, too, have raised concerns about TikTok in recent weeks. The app was briefly banned in India last April aftr a court directive said the app encouraged pornography and could expose children to sexual predators. The ban was revoked after an appeal by TikTok.
In a three-page document seen by Reuters, the IT ministry asked 24 questions related to TikTok's user safety, data storage and legal compliance. The ministry has also asked for details of measures taken to prevent obscene content on TikTok.
"What measures have been taken to create awareness among children and parents to ensure safe use of the platform and to avoid any addictiveness of the application?" read one of the questions.
Bytedance, one of the world's most valuable start-ups, will also need to address some of those queries with relation to its Helo app, which allows users to share content in local languages.
A spokesman for TikTok and Helo isued a statement saying that India was one of their strongest markets, in which the company plans to invest US$1 billion over the next three years.
"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 spokesman said.
TikTok features memes and music videos, with some clips showing youngsters, some scantily clad, lip-syncing and dancing to popular tunes. Some Indian politicians and parents say the content is inappropriate, but the app's popularity has still boomed.
A senior government source told Reuters that TikTok and Helo need to answer the ministry's questions by July 22, but it was too early to say whether the government was contemplating any sort of ban on the apps.
"They are expected to respond in a responsible manner," the official said.