The Chinese tech company, ByteDance has reportedly stepped up efforts to separate the operations of popular social media app TikTok from much of its Chinese operations. This development comes in the background of a U.S. national security panel’s inquiry into the safety of the personal data that TikTok handles. The Chinese platform has been seen with suspicion by the American lawmakers.
Recently, it was reported that the US had launched a national security review of the Chinese-owned video platform TikTok.
TikTok, previously called Musical.ly, a social network where users create and remix short videos set to music was purchased by Chinese company ByteDance in 2017. The US officials are suspicious of the video-sharing platform’s collection of user data, and like Huawei, the company is accused of sharing user data with the Chinese government.
Amidst the ongoing US-China trade war, the Chinese tech company is looking to assure the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which reviews deals by foreign acquirers for potential national security risks, about the safety of personal data held by TikTok. Sources say that the Chinese company has assured that the data is stored securely in the US and will not be compromised by the Chinese authorities.
The move by the Chinese tech company is crucial as the Chinese company is trying to suggest that it is committed towards operating businesses in the US in a secure manner when it comes to handling personal data. The Chinese tech platform is, therefore, trying to win the trust of the US. The two largest economies of the world- the US and China have been suspicious of each other in the face of the ongoing trade war. And this is why the move of ByteDance to move operations of TikTok to the US becomes that much more important.
The US and India have emerged as the largest markets of the online platform, TikTok. Therefore, India should also push for the Chinese company to ensure the safety of the data of Indian users held by it, and ensure storage of their data within India. India has already been apprehensive of the security threat posed by the app which has been gaining popularity at a rapid pace. Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY), recently issued notices to the Chinese apps- TikTok and Help, along with a set of 24 questions regarding the alleged misuse of their platforms for “anti-national activities” in country.
Personal Data has emerged as one of the most precious assets in the recent times and with repeated instances of en masse breaches in users’ personal data, the threat posed by vulnerability to users’ data held by TikTok and other Chinese apps cannot be ruled out. India must push for data localisation, but data held by all tech companies must be stored within India only. There is a need for tighter regulation and accountability on the part of tech giants. Data localisation, viz. processing and storage of data within the specific border of the country where the data was generated, becomes crucial and the need of the hour. Currently, users’ data with the giant tech companies is either partly or completely stored outside India. With data localisation, this anomaly can be fixed that would help not only in safeguarding users’ privacy but also ensuring that due taxes are paid by these digital giants.
In fact, India is already pushing for data localisation. Last year, the government came out with a draft of the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2018 which aims at ensuring informational privacy as part of the Right to Privacy, a fundamental right. The bill provides to create Data Protection Authority of India, which aims to be an independent regulator on the lines of SEBI and TRAI. It is clear that the government is aware of the data breach scare and its consequences. India must learn from how the US has forced TikTok into shifting its operations to the US, in order to assure the US of not compromising on users’ data and national security.
Since India faces a similar scare, India too must push the Chinese app to shift its operations to India and duly assure India that the data with the company is safe and beyond the scope of being compromised.