The government ban of 59 apps citing security concerns

Hey everyone,

In light of the recent ban imposed by the government on 59 apps of predominantly Chinese origin, I write with Anupriya from NLUD to dissect the implications of the same. We argue that the ban falls foul of the right to free speech and expression as well as the procedure mandated by the IT Act. The piece is carried by Scroll and is available here.

Part of our argument prior to editorial changes cited Payal Arora’s work on fictionalizing the digital behaviours of the marginalised. For instance, it is assumed that farmers would use the internet for agricultural best practices and women would chiefly use it to gain health and educational information. TikTok resists these essentialisms. It reveals that despite material constraints, users are often motivated by romance, purposelessness, leisure, entertainment and play in their use of the internet. Without TikTok, we lose out on speech that is more diverse and the social good of accommodating and engaging a wider range of speakers and audiences, resulting in an ultimately shriveled marketplace of ideas. TikTok reimagines the marginalised by allowing them not just visibility that more expensive forms of content creation never could, but also the means to be seen on their own terms and create their own narratives.

A great explainer of Section 69A has been published by Medianama here.

In the name of security concerns, the ban seeks to ignore the framework of the law and sets a bad precedent allowing for a greater leverage to prohibit free speech in the future. Hence, it is imperative to generate a greater discourse around the same.

Happy to hear everyone’s thoughts on the issue!

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  1. Playing the devil’s advocate here, can you not say that TikTok while being a great medium of expression for many, can’t be deemed ‘essential’ from the perspective of Article 19. The state didn’t remove the app with the intention (whether direct or indirect) of suppression of free speech (albeit a consequence of their decision) the ban does not deprive them of their ability to free speech, and countless other platforms still exist for the citizens to express themselves.
  2. Leading from my first point, keeping Article 19(2) in mind, wouldn’t national security and the personal information that was allegedly being stolen out weigh the benefits reaped in the form of expression?
  3. One interesting point I’d like to raise is with respect to the timing of the ban; If they were citing security issues I’m sure information collection would have been going on since the very beginning, and other companies like Facebook and Google who have become synonymous with Big Brother and have been openly implicated in numerous illegal data collection, especially as pointed out in the documents Snowden had released. Why haven’t those companies and those documents ever been brought into question in the name of National Security?
  4. Lastly I had a question, while I strongly agree that procedure must be heeded, given that these orders are confidential in nature, how can one truly know whether procedure was followed as laid down in §69A?

Thank you for sharing those articles, learned a lot about Section 69A! Please correct me if I’m wrong anywhere! :smile:

Regards,
Sidharth

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App bans push the public towards downloading unofficial, possibly compromised, rip-offs from non-official app stores, and further erodes individual privacy & cybersecurity.

A simple, supply-side, proxy would be the sheer number of LinkedIn posts/news articles touting indigenous tools developed in “3-4 days” that are suddenly available to fill in the void. You simply cannot build a sufficiently complex, competent, and secure product in a week. I know this because I have been building products for the last decade and a half.

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It’s hardly been a week, and exactly what I was worried about. :disappointed:

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While we have talked about the denial of services that such bans deliver to its users, I have not seen if the problems of the producers have been discussed.

People would have made huge investments creating identities and social media assets on platforms like TikTok.

If any platform that you invest in to build your social identity can arbitrarily be banned or can shut down, users must have a right to move out their digital assets and follower base to another platform via ActivityPub or any other standard protocol.

Also if we consider digital assets as property, do such arbitrary bans also violate property rights of these digital asset holders? Has this ban been challenged on the basis of property rights?

This brings forth the requirement of open standards in transferring such digital assets and identities on alternate platforms.

Just some thoughts and questions.

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Do you mean people as in individuals, where it would be more of an emotional investment; or people as in a legal person that would encompass companies, whose investments are likely to be significant financially? While both are equally important, remedies sought would probably be very different.

Also if we consider digital assets as property, do such arbitrary bans also violate property rights of these digital asset holders? Has this ban been challenged on the basis of property rights?

This necessitates us to take a deeper look at content ownership and usage rights. For both owners, and license (to use) holders, suffer.

Typically, ownership of user generated content stays with users. However, platforms grant themselves broad licenses via ToS clauses to do more or less as they please with the content. This is a significant part of their broad appeal, and revenue generation model.

For collaborative works, or paid – but not explicit promotions (c.f. social media influencers’ posts) – the copyright question is far more complex.

A detailed look at UGC and copyright can be found here.

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