Government of India banned Tiktok and 58 other Chinese apps more than two weeks ago citing sovereignty, integrity, defense of India, security of State and public order. Whether or not it is a great political move is a matter of scrutiny. It was certainly better than nothing for people at the grass-hood level. After all, PM Modi did something that a superpower like USA could not. It was taken as digital air-strike by our PM Modi on China. It gets confirmed after prediction of losses of over 6 Billion USD by Chinese ByteDance Ltd., the company behind Tiktok in a report by Chinese media group Caixin. Recently US President Trump also suggested a possibility of ban on Tiktok and other Chinese apps. India’s ban on Chinese apps however political it was at first, has eventually gained momentum world-wide. India as a State is serious and it has made it quite obvious this time. Being a democratic country, it has invited Tiktok and other companies for clarification within hours of interim order.
Don’t pretend to believe the pretext
Technically, if you exclude 3 to 7 apps out of the 59 apps, no individual in the right mind who has ever read about privacy would consider installing them. I could not even find a single application on any of my personal smart-phones out of the list of banned 59 apps. On my wife’s phone I found two, i.e. Tiktok and ShareIT. But then I also found WhatsApp, Instagram on their phone. Both being family of Facebook Apps and are good examples let bothered we are about our personal data getting exposed, sold, mined and used for various reasons including but not limited to government surveillance, international espionage, attacking journalism and dissidents. Further it offers us a fake model of end-to-end encryption and privacy. These so-called secure instant messaging apps are being forced to decrypt their messages when required. They openly lie to you with pride about end-to-end privacy, security and integrity of your data. Further, founder of WhatsApp, Mr Brian Acton himself has tweeted to delete Facebook having seen enough mockery of privacy by biggest surveillance-based enterprise in the history of mankind.
I am sure your family, teachers or someone intelligent has taught you that there are no free lunches. When you are not paying for the product, you are the product. You and your data which is the new oil and most significant resource for humanity today is being monitored, stored probably mined and sold every minute as we speak for profit. There is nothing weird about it as it is being done behind the scenes while you enjoy free of cost services and apps from these web giants like Google or Facebook. I understand it is difficult and it hurts to pay for intangible things. Since when are things being offered for gratis for a lifetime? What is the catch? Imagine a guy other than brother of father, offering your wife, free meals for you and son every day. Would you not doubt the intention of that guy ever? I never imagined things being offered for free would be the new normal in times where kids are intelligent enough to ask for favorite treat before doing any work you assign them. How could you trust US based corporation like Google or Facebook with history of surveillance and exploitation of user data for profits? I don’t follow. There is more to it, if you do not care about value or privacy of your data at all. I am sure you would care to looking to things Facebook has been doing lately. It has admitted to performing illegal human experimentation, it would be a war crime if they were a government. Facebook has been doing high provocative and unethical human experiments on its users to manipulate a user’s emotional state or mood. I mean, was not Facebook trying to connect you to your loved ones? What happened to that? Is their CEO or CTO out of their mind and oblivious about their own goal or aim now?
I am sure by now you certain that data privacy and national security issues with a Chinese app like Tiktok and others are a pretext. The interim order to ban 59 apps was more of a political thing than digital or real threat. Had we cared about data privacy and security of Indian citizens, Facebook and their family of apps should not be allowed at all. As it is not about connecting you to your loved ones any more. Google should have been properly regulated.
If, India cared about privacy, it would make its own social media platform instead of trusting one controlled by a hostile foreign power or big corporations like Facebook and Google. Without developing a good indigenous replacement based on Free and Open code and licensing. A blanket ban of Chinese social media app like TikTok has done nothing but deprived a lot of creators from small towns and villages of a social media platform that was so readily available at the grasshood level. Whether this ban has hurt China or not, it has certainly caused a lot of financial losses to local influencers in India. TikTok is a fun video application for a lot of people who never signed up for an account either. It never mandated anyone to sign up for an account to consume the fun content upload by locals. People from villages with talent that I never appreciated until now. They just never connected with urban India like this before. It was like an entertainment video site turned into an app. TikTok was never suppose to be data sensitive or critical app that you use for communications, anyways. It is apps owned by Facebook and Google that you use for private conversations. As read above, they are the ones cheating you not TikTok. What will the Chinese government do with a 30-secs footage of funny video by an Indian from village in a local language? How is that a matter of National security versus what Google and Facebook’s apps are doing with us? We need to learn to ask the right questions.
Local for vocal is the new scheme in the digital market of India too. A lot of Tiktok replacements are being released in the market. It is a really good thing for India. Domestically designed and developed apps or Tiktok alternatives or clones will boost local social media market share. But instead of working on 10 different apps, India should unite and work on a good revenue generating application model with Free/Open code and license that multiple companies can fork and benefit from like how WordPress is for blogging. We need to unite and get our act right to quickly fill in the gap as an open-source robust TikTok replacement software with contributions from around the world. In order to expedite the software development, we can fork already existing free/open server software like PixelFed.
By doing so, we can, not only add more professional features to compete with Facebook’s Instragram but also give a world-class replacement to TikTok that is free and open for everyone to experiment, host and try! India’s software development proficiency can easily trump egos and attitude of powerful US corporations and Chinese companies where our data is controlled by their respective governments in the end of the day. Can we dig it? Heck yeah!
Why revere US products and allow their TikTok clones to re-capture or conquer our market share again?
Ever since the news of TikTok ban, the major weight in the list of banned apps, for profit US corporations and companies immediately hopped in to fill in the gap to finish Indian competition or new born startups. Whether it is Snapchat’s new TikTok-like scrolling format or Facebook Instagram’s TikTok-style Reels which is an add-on to the application. These are strategic attempts to address the growing market share of TikTok in India both in terms of download and user engagement by US giants. According to a report, TikTok had increased its market share to 28% in 2019 in India, which resulted in US-based Facebook and Twitter losing 40% of its market share.
In nutshell, I know China is not fair with their own people and it is certainly using their products to collect data and spy on it. But so is the USA. Edward Snowden has recently confirmed and shared a lot of credible information on how they do it. Why do we trust the USA and their products so much? All major US digital corporation including Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Yahoo etc are co-operating with the NSA of US in data sharing in name of National security and protection of its citizens from external threat and terrorism. So, basically Chinese are not exclusively bad, most governments eventually do the same. USA being the pioneers, if you do not count what Hilter did during the World War. I think we are letting US double-speak on the topic about TikTok as a tool of Chinese surveillance. Most US products by all major corporation of USA are respectively counterparts to TikTok for US. Keep on pretending and citing a pretext. It would not change the truth. We should stop fooling innocent citizens and be honest instead. We should be educating about truth of US companies and let them make a wise decision.
An average Indian social media user or creator should not fall into the trap of this whole US vs China thing. It has been going for long. Why US President Trump seem to applaud ban of Chinese apps is for obvious reasons? Is not it? We should not follow US Trump blindly. He is already in battle with Twitter. Trump himself has been criticized by Twitter for his tweets and Mr Trump is considering to shutdown Twitter.
In this battle between US President and US-based micro-blogging service Twitter, a German official Mr Thomas who is the person for start-up economy in Germany has already invited Twitter to Germany. Moral of the story is not to fight and be competitive and productive. Our immediate focus should have been a robust domestically developed, owned, Free and Open global alternative to Facebook’s Instagram, TikTok or YouTube regardless of geo-location of data that generates local revenue for creators, influencers and businesses. It should not have the same limitations of American products that fail to reach villages of India. It should take lessons from TikTok’s success in India at the same time. If we fail to grab this opportunity quickly, US corporations with their existing client-base and powerful revenue models would monopolize India’s social media market share for a very long time. If we let it happen, it is certainly going to be a rock road for local social media start-ups with very little or no local funding. Creators from TikTok have already waited enough and are slowly moving to US giants i.e. Instagram and YouTube. No surprise there and no one’s really vocal.