Months after India banned popular Chinese video-sharing app TikTok, Pakistan on Friday blocked the app. TikTok, owned by China's ByteDance, has been in crosshairs worldwide. This is another blow to the social media app that has come under increasing scrutiny as its popularity has surged across the globe. The Indian government has already banned it over security concerns.
TikTok, owned by China-based ByteDance, has become hugely popular in a short period of time, by encouraging young users to post brief videos. Its quick rise has caught it in a firestorm, with a number of countries raising security and privacy concerns over its links to China.
The main reason behind the ban: Pakistan's telecom watchdog on Friday banned the popular Chinese video-sharing app TikTok after getting numerous complaints against its immoral content. The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) said in a statement that a "number of complaints from different segments of the society" were made "against immoral/indecent content" on TikTok.
The regulator took the step after a "final notice" was given to TikTok to comply with the instructions for the development of an effective mechanism for a proactive moderation of its unlawful online contents, it said. However, TikTok failed to comply with the instructions which forced the PTA to ban it in the country.
Next step: The watchdog said that it was open for engagement with the mobile application's parent company and would review its decision if a mechanism was developed to moderate the content as per the earlier instructions. The PTA said it would review its ban, subject to a satisfactory mechanism by TikTok to moderate unlawful content.
The reaction of TikTok: TikTok said it was "committed to following the law in markets where the app is offered. "We have been in regular communication with the PTA and continue to work with them. We are hopeful to reach a conclusion that helps us continue to serve the country’s vibrant and creative online community," it said.
TikTok banned in India: In June, it was blocked in India, then its largest market by users, as India asserted that there was national security concerns at a time of a border dispute with China. India on June 29 banned 59 Chinese mobile apps including TikTok, UC Browser and Cam Scanner among others, in a major retaliation against China amid the rising border tension at the Line of Actual Control (LAC). A statement from the government said that the apps are 'engaged in activities which is prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, the security of the state and public order'.
TikTok ban in other nations: Separately, it faces the threat of being barred in the United States and scrutiny in other countries including Australia. TikTok has long denied that its links to China pose a security concern in other countries.
The US government said in a court filing on Thursday it was appealing a judge`s ruling that prevented it from prohibiting new downloads of the Chinese-owned short video-sharing app TikTok. The Justice Department said it appealed the order to the US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. In late September, a US judge temporarily blocked a Trump administration order that was set to bar Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc`s Google from offering new TikTok downloads.
ByteDance has been under pressure to sell the popular app. The White House contends that TikTok poses national security concerns as personal data collected on 100 million Americans who use the app could be obtained by China`s government. Any deal will also still need to be reviewed by the US government`s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). Negotiations are underway for Walmart Inc and Oracle Corp to take stakes in a new company, TikTok Global, that would oversee US operations.
Three Pakistani officials had told Reuters earlier on Friday that a ban on the app in Pakistan was imminent. "We have been asking them repeatedly to put in place an effective mechanism for blocking immoral and indecent content," one of the top officials directly involved in the decision told Reuters. "The platform, however, hasn`t been able to fully satisfy Pakistani authorities."
Muslim-majority Pakistan has media regulations that adhere to conservative social customs. In July, the telecommunications regulator issued a "final warning" to TikTok over provocative content. The decision was taken after Prime Minister Imran Khan took a keen interest in the issue, said a second Pakistani official, adding that Khan has directed the telecoms authorities to make all efforts to block vulgar content.
Usama Khilji, director of Bolo Bhi, a Pakistani group advocating for the rights of internet users, said the decision undermined the government`s dreams of a digital Pakistan. "The government blocking an entertainment app that is used by millions of people, and is a source of income for thousands of content creators, especially those coming from smaller towns and villages, is a travesty to democratic norms and fundamental rights as guaranteed by the constitution," said Khilji.