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Raunchy content to fake news: Are Chinese apps a threat to Indian Policies?

A slew of Chinese companies have quickly moved to launch mobile applications directly in India to capture the rapidly swelling next generation of internet users. Chinese apps such as TikTok, Kwai, BigoLive, UpLive and Like have become popular in India owing to the short video craze specially amongst the adolescents.

Chinese apps exposing teens to sexual content

Teens within the age group of 13-19 have quickly adopted the trend for creating short videos while lip syncing to some song. More often these videos are sexually explicit and according to the experts, these apps have become the new hunting ground for pedophiles. They warn that the content on these apps could be in violation of the country’s law as its not suitable for children or teens.

While these platforms have a disclaimer stating that they are not directed at children, their target audience encompasses preteens and adolescents in tier-2 and tier-3 cities.

One of the leading media house, reviewed more than 20 Chinese video apps that dominate the mobile entertainment network of tier-2 and tier-3 cities mostly thanks to titillating videos, suggestive notifications, risqué humour and raunchy content.

Live-streaming applications such as Bigo Live and UpLive focus more on personal interaction but these appear to skirt dangerously close to breaking the law, exposing children to nudity and possibly those who seek to coerce or groom underage users into committing explicit acts.

Data privacy issue

TikTok, the popular lip-sync app, is filled with 15-second clips of meme-friendly content with users miming to their favorite songs. The videos range from the harmless to the explicit, depending upon the users followed.

Despite the rapidly growing user base, apps like TikTok don’t have a grievance redressal office in India at a time when the government is insisting on this for all major social media platforms. Most of these apps including TikTok explicitly state that though they have appropriate technical and organizational measures in place, they cannot guarantee the security of your information transmitted through the platform.

A reading of the privacy policies of the Chinese apps also suggests that they hoover up a vast quantity of data with a one-click, opt-in button. This includes sharing location, contacts, allowing audio and video recording and full network access. Apps such as Nonolive do not mention any India-specific clauses in their privacy policy.

Local but not really local

There has been a sudden spur of mobile apps that claims to be a true local app with the app being present in local language. Being available in Indian languages definitely makes them easier to use than Facebook or Instagram. However, the privacy policies are in English and the fact that privacy policy is not available in local languages further makes it difficult for many users to understand the implications of using these apps, making them an easy prey.

As with Indian apps, apart from generic privacy policies that aren’t available in local languages, the Chinese ones don’t have layered consent—allowing users to opt out of certain obligations if they wish to do so. ShareChat is the only Indian regional social media app that has its privacy policy in 10 regional languages.

Spreading fake news

With 10 million Indians joining the Internet every month and as India looks up for 2019 elections, social media platforms are trying to do all what they can do to curb spreading of misinformation. People are increasingly consuming news online and Bytedance’s popular app Helo seems to have figured the algorithms that have found that fake news-fueled outrage is the trick to drive user engagement on their apps. It recognizes the types of headlines that get the most clicks, and applies them to the news stories they publish. These headlines are often more provocative than the actual content of the article and running along fault lines such as racial and religious issues. This can cause users to be misinformed simply by scanning through the headlines. It then curates and targets content for users. Since the new internet users have no idea how their clicks are affecting their future recommendations  they do not realize how the app is influencing them.

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