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How China’s TikTok Might Be Breaching Data Security Laws In India

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The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology of India revealed a list of 59 apps of Chinese origin that must be blocked on the grounds of violation of data privacy of Indian users by Chinese authorities. Multiple internet service providers have been directed to block internet flow pertaining to these apps.

On the other hand, TikTok India CEO Nikhil Gandhi has released a statement, claiming, “TikTok continues to comply with all data privacy and security requirements under Indian Law and has not shared any information of our users in India with any foreign goverment including the Chinese government.”

The problem here is that when social media sensation Saloni Gaur aka Nazma Aapki (stage name) posted a video during the end of May — taking a dig at China’s cross-border activities in Ladakh — which was immediately removed by TikTok though it is still present on all other social media platforms.

Did TikTok India remove the video? No. The content was censored by Bytedance TikTok’s Chinese parent company. Bytedance frames the final rules for the app, and hence, an Indian citizen posting content on TikTok and TikTok India does not have much control or say in it.

Censorship Of Anti-Chinese Government Content On TikTok

The Washington Post also noticed that a search on the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests showed zero content on TikTok. This topic, which was highly covered on all other social media platforms at that time, was quite clearly censored on the Chinese-owned app. Hence, the claim by the TikTok India CEO does not seem credible.

Where Lies The Problem?

China is run by an authoritarian regime. The Communist Party of China exerts great control over Chinese companies, who are answerable to the government that intentionally secludes itself and crushes freedom of speech.

Data Security Laws In China

A 2017 Chinese law requires Chinese companies to comply with government intelligence operations if asked, which means that companies based in China can do very little if the Chinese government requests a company for access to data.

TikTok also has access to personal chats on its platform and is not end-to-end encrypted.

Another example of data privacy breach is when TikTok recently claimed that it’d stop accessing users’ clipboard content on iOS devices, after a new privacy transparency feature in iOS 14 revealed that the video-sharing platform was still continuing the practice it had pledged to discontinue the previous year in 2019. TikTok has still not announced a firm date when it will discontinue access.
Whenever a third-party app accesses clipboard of a device with iOS 14, a notification pops up. Users noticed TikTok checking content from their the clipboard even when the app was running in the background.

Hypocrisy In Censorship Of Content

On the other hand, TikTok claims that the lack of political content on the social media app is because of its audience’s interests and demands. According to the app, TikTokers mainly use it for entertainment and positive content, rather than politics.

But surprisingly, there are sensitive sociopolitical videos that have trended on TikTok, like Black Lives Matter and videos against Trump or other political leaders, which include a lot of sensitive and violent content. In India, for example, the app’s content regulation (or lack thereof) resulted in the spread of racist and violent messages targeting specific groups.

While TikTok’s moderation guidelines came under scrutiny in November 2019, when it suspended US teenager Feroza Aziz’s account for posting three videos on Chinese oppression of its Uighur Muslim population. TikTok claimed that it did not suspend Aziz’s account for the content, but instead due a human moderation error.

Surprisingly, apps like TikTok, Vigo and Helo do not have a dislike or a report option. This is mere reflection of the Chinese government’sideology.

Lack Of Transparency In How The App Works

Chinese data laws allow any branch of the Chinese government to potentially access anybody’s TikTok activity. TikTok claims that it does not store user data in China, but there is little transparency on how TikTok actually works.

TikTok released its first‘Transparency Report’ by the end of 2019. However, this report did not answer many of the questions that privacy advocates and others had about TikTok.

The report focused on how TikTok was engaging with government bodies, but did not address any privacy concerns or issues on other groups TikTok is choosing to sharing data with.

The Reality Of Content Regulation

Apps such as TikTok, Helo, Vigo and others says these platforms are an outlet of creative expression. Yet, there is ample promotion of vulgarity, cheap humour, violence, sexism, racism and such toxicity in the garb of creative expression.

Popular Tiktoker Faisal Siddiqui posted problematic content promoting acid attack
Popular TikToker Faisal Siddiqui posted a video promoting acid attack that was removed after backlash.

There is no regulation laws for the content that people put out on other social media platforms or TikTok. History repeats itself when Bollywood produced mass entertainment films (sexist, racist and violent) while people thronged theatres, causing many content-driven films to die a slow death.

Things haven’t changed really though.

What Change Can We Bring?

On a positive note, India must strengthen its poorly-regulated data security and cyber laws, and frame new ones.

What Are The Concerns That India Needs To Consider?

As Bytedance continues to make various claims with its problematic public policies, the answer to questions such as the purpose that China uses such data for, the nature of data collected and the degree of access that the Chinese government has in tech and gadgets remain unanswered.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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