The Indian army has upped the app purge and requested that personnel delete their accounts on virtually all major social platforms, Indian media is reporting. The list of 89 apps include, unsurprisingly, China-affiliated TikTok and all Tencent gaming apps, but also Facebook, Tinder, Instagram, Tinder, Snapchat, OkCupid, and Reddit. According to India TV, service members were instructed to delete their accounts by July 15th or “be reported.”
If you, a non-service member, are wondering at this point why you should care about a military ban in the face of a real national security threat (might revoke your TikTok account.
Just weeks ago, India banned downloads of TikTok and 58 other China-owned apps. Upon the announcement of the ban on June 29th, India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said that Chinese apps were “stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorised manner to servers which have locations outside India.” The move also immediately followed a bloody conflict with Chinese troops on the contested border of disputed territory in the Himalayas. (Two days ago, China reportedly drew back from the area but then moved to claim a wildlife sanctuary in nearby Bhutan.) In 2017, the Indian military had already told troops on the Chinese-Indian border to delete 42 China-affiliated apps, including WeChat, Weibo, and SHAREit.
Several branches of the U.S. military, too, banned TikTok from government-issued devices earlier this year and advised personnel to remove the app from their phones. For good reason: the Department of Defence worried that China may require TikTok’s Beijing-based parent company Bytedance to hand over data, despite TikTok’s repeated assurances that all data for U.S. users is stored within the U.S. and backed up in Singapore. (“Data” not only includes names, emails, and location, but also biometric data which some worry could be entered into China’s vast facial recognition grid.) In November, the U.S. launched a national security investigation into TikTok after Senators Chuck Schumer and Tom Cotton warned that the app collects user data and suggested that the company might engage in a propaganda campaign; on Tuesday, Reuters reported that the FTC and Department of Justice launched yet another probe into numerous complaints that TikTok inappropriately collected and stored children’s data, a running theme. On Monday night, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News’s Laura Ingraham that the U.S. might go ahead and ban TikTok and other China-affiliated apps for civilians.
If the U.S. joins India in banning TikTok, it could deal the app a mortal blow, which could be good or bad, but ultimately great for Facebook. Before the ban, India was TikTok’s largest growing market, followed by the U.S. The app tracker Sensor Tower reported that TikTok saw 87 million installs in June alone, 18.8 per cent of which came from India-based users — though prominent Indian TikTok users and celebrities have supported the government ban in the interest of reducing China’s cultural presence and uplifting more Indian-built platforms.
But the Indian government has shut down access to social platforms for what, by even pummelled U.S. democratic standards, would be considered flimsier moral and political reasons. India briefly banned TikTok last year, after a state court objected the app was, among other things, encouraging “pornography” and “cultural degeneration.” According to the BBC, officials in various Indian cities shut down the internet entirely, mainly during protests, more than any other democracy last year.
With but a pea-sized imagination, the Trump administration has managed to invent blunt justifications to retaliate against tech companies. Before signing an executive order proclaiming that social media companies have to let him say whatever he wants over a menial fact-check label, Trump threatened to shut down social media altogether. If it serves his own interests, his cartel might even dream up some patriotic alibi to shut down the internet.