- The wildly popular short video app TikTok for lip-syncing teenagers around the world has stormed India. Police officers, city workers, and physicians are finding their lure irresistible to escape the humdrum of their working lives.
Arpita Chaudhary, a newly recruited police officer in the western Gujarat state of India, became a sensation overnight after sharing a clip of her 15-second gambol— dressed in her civvies— on TikTok, the smash-hit viral video app.
Then she was paying the price. A video of her gyrating to a Bollywood song against a jail cell’s backdrop went viral and Chaudhary was suspended from her job days later. She had danced while on duty inside the police station.
The wildly popular short video app for lip-syncing teenagers around the world has stormed India. Police officers, city workers, and physicians are finding their lure irresistible to escape the humdrum of their working lives.
They are regaling their countrymen with at-times cringe-worthy videos, shot inside police stations, public offices and government hospitals.
Two female Delhi Police officers groove into a film song in a recent TikTok video, and local media reported it appeared to have been filmed while protecting VIPs in India’s capital.
“Indians are bitten by the TikTok bug as the app makes it easy to create content using just a mobile,” said Prasant Naidu, founder, and CEO of the Bangalore-based Lighthouse Insights digital technology consultancy. “But because it is Chinese-owned, it raises apprehensions, stores Indian user data overseas, and it’s mass base makes propaganda and porn quick to spread.”
More than 200 million Indian users devour and share videos imitating Bollywood dancing, movie banter, and comedy, making India TikTok the world’s largest audience. ByteDance Inc., the Chinese Internet giant behind TikTok, has a separate Douyin app with similar features in China, where TikTok is not running. Cavorting videos of public officials show the lack of control over their use among government and law enforcement agencies and give strength to a backlash against the app in India. Some people even say it’s a threat of safety.
Prominent lawmaker Shashi Tharoor of last summer’s main Congress party told Parliament that apps such as TikTok are a “national security” threat and Indians are vulnerable to surveillance through the app due to the country’s weak data protection regulations. He is worried that TikTok has too close a relationship with China’s government, like other devices from China. Tharoor said the paid influence of ByteDance could have an impact on the democratic processes of India.
Economic groups affiliated with the ruling BJP have called for the application to be blocked, saying that it is used for “anti-national” content, including videos promoting religious violence, stirring prejudices against specific social classes, and inadequate treatment of women.
A Southern court temporarily banned downloads of the app amid complaints that its content was culture degrading and pornography encouraging. A litigant in a Mumbai court alleged that the app’s “unfiltered sexual content” harmed young Indians and led to the crime.
Security experts and lawmakers are more concerned about the fact that TikTok is seeking access to user information such as location, phone contacts, call records and audio. While other apps are seeking similar approval, “TikTok is from China we have a history with and it is strategic and responsive,” said Nikhil Pahwa, Medianama’s founder and publisher, who tracks the growth of India’s digital ecosystem.
India is still working on a framework for data protection and privacy, with consideration being given to the Personal Data Protection Bill which regulates data collection and transfer. As long as data rules and regulations are not robust, “this type of application can easily use the loopholes in the law to collect user data,” said Tarun Pathak, Consultancy Counterpoint Research Associate Director.
The most popular app in the world is controversial elsewhere. Indonesia outlawed TikTok, claiming that pornography and blasphemy were not blocked. In the United Kingdom, it is being investigated to collect young users ‘ data. The U.S. government has fined them $5.7 million apps to collect user data under the age of 13 without parental consent and is targeting the national security review app.