Arpita Chaudhary, a newly hired police constable in India’s western Gujarat state became an overnight celebrity after posting a clip of her 15-second gambol clad in her civvies on TikTok. A snippet of her gyrating to a Bollywood song against the backdrop of a prison cell went viral. She had danced inside the police station while on duty and later was suspended from her job. Her video obtained over 2 million views within days of its release.
“Indians are bitten by the TikTok bug as the app makes it easy to create content using nothing more than a phone but it’s raising apprehensions because it’s Chinese-owned, stores Indian user data overseas and its mass base makes it easy to spread propaganda and porn,” said Prasant Naidu, founder and CEO of the Bangalore-based digital technology consultancy Lighthouse Insights.
About 200 million users in India devour and share videos mimicking Bollywood dancing, movie dialogue, and comedy. The Chinese internet giant behind TikTok – ByteDance Inc. has a separate app called Douyin with similar features in China.
Shashi Tharoor, a prominent lawmaker of the main Congress party told that apps like TikTok are a national security threat and Indians are vulnerable to spying through the app because of the country’s lax data protection regulations. He also said that ByteDance’s paid influence could affect India’s democratic processes.
Security experts and lawmakers are more worried as TikTok seeks to obtain user information such as location, phone contacts, call records and audio. “TikTok is from China with whom we have history and it becomes strategic and sensitive,” said Nikhil Pahwa, founder, and editor of Medianama, which tracks the growth of India’s digital ecosystem.
As long as rules and regulations regarding data are not robust, “these kinds of apps can easily use the loopholes in the law to collect user data,” said Tarun Pathak, associate director at consultancy Counterpoint Research.
The app has been banned in Indonesia because it failed to block pornography and blasphemy. The U.S. government has fined the app $5.7 million (Approx. ₹40.6 crores) for collecting data of users under 13 without parental consent and is targeting the app for a national security review. Also, the app is being investigated for collecting personal data of young users in the U.K.
Also, in one viral TikTok post set to a high-voltage movie song, five gun-wielding officers of a police SWAT team returning from an encounter in the central state of Uttar Pradesh are shown walking across a field in slow motion and at the same time their unlocks his gun’s safety catch and pretend-fires at invisible bad guys. This led to the transfer of the SWAT team out of the region. “We do not sanction unprofessional display of weapons and grotesque caricaturing of police,” the Uttar Pradesh police said in a statement.
In order to stave criticism, TikTok has begun #WaitASecToReflect digital literacy workshops to encourage users to pause before posting or sharing and implored users to “Bura na post karo, Bura na share karo, Bura na comment karo” (Post no evil, share no evil, comment no evil) The app has shed about 6 million videos since its India launch in early 2017.