Sunday 25 October 2020

Companies asked if their apps worked for CCP, other foreign powers

The government asked the app companies if they had faced an investigation in the US, EU or elsewhere for surreptitiously harvesting user data

The union government has asked Chinese companies such as TikTok-owner ByteDance to answer 77 questions about their apps banned in India. The questions include whether they censored content, worked on behalf of foreign governments or lobbied influencers.

The Ministry of Information Technology has given the companies three weeks to reply. The government told these companies it would take unspecified follow-up action, sources said.

India had last month banned 59 Chinese apps after the clash along the Line of Actual Control (LoAC) between soldiers from the two countries. India has said the apps pose a threat to its “sovereignty and integrity”. China has criticised the ban.

The Indian government today asked the 59 banned apps, which include TikTok and Alibaba’s UC Browser, whether they acted at the behest of any foreign government to edit, promote or demote any content.

A theme of the questionnaire is whether they censored content after Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed’s Pulwama terror attack. The ambush had killed at least 40 CRPF jawans. India had retaliated with an airstrike on a Balakot terrorist training camp deep inside Pakistan, crossing not only the LoC but also the international border. “In the aftermath of the Pulwama Attack of 2019, did the company/app censor content relating to the attack or its perpetrators?” the question reads.

TikTok said it was working to respond to the ministry’s queries and that it complied with all Indian laws, adding that users’ data security and privacy were its top priorities.

The app ban has jolted the ambitions of ByteDance in India, where its TikTok video app was hugely popular.

Neither Alibaba nor the Indian ministry responded to requests for comment.

A source said the queries were in line with federal procedures and the same questions were sent to all affected companies.

One question probes if company executives in India communicated with film stars, social media influencers or journalists to promote any content, even if the communication was not for commercial purposes.

Other queries were around advertisers, business structures, taxation practices and privacy policies, the document showed.

The government asked the app companies further if they had faced any investigation in the United States, European Union or elsewhere for surreptitiously harvesting user data.

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