India comfortably topped the list and was followed by the United States with 68 requests. The US requests, however, specified 255 accounts. The app took action on 86 percent of these.
TikTok has released its transparency report for the first half of 2019 and it places India on top of the list of countries from where content takedown requests originated.
The Indian government sent 107 requests for user data as well as 11 requests to take down content or accounts on TikTok, according to the report. The requests from India specified 143 accounts for TikTok to take action. Of those, TiokTok says it took action on 47 percent of the requests.
Further, TikTok says there were 11 content removal requests, specifying nine accounts, from the Indian government. Of these requests, the ByteDance-owned app removed or restricted eight accounts and took action on four posts.
The data takes into account requests from January 1 to June 30, 2019. The report was released on December 30.
Japan (28 requests), Germany (9), and Norway (6) rounded up the top five list.
“TikTok is committed to assisting law enforcement in appropriate circumstances while at the same time respecting the privacy and rights of our users,” Eric Ebenstein, TikTok’s head of public policy, wrote in a blog post.
The US on January 1 banned its army personnel from using the app on government-owned phones, calling the Chinese app a cyber-security threat.
TikTok is hugely popular in India and the Chinese social media platform, which facilitates short video clips that run in loops, was in the news in the country for most of 2019. From the Madras High Court ordering a ban on the application for reportedly encouraging pornography to it being taken off the app store in India, TikTok remained in the spotlight.
Interestingly, the report doesn’t mention requests from the Chinese government. TikTok’s Chinese version is called Douyin and runs as a separate entity. Most apps in the country are heavily regulated by the Chinese government and there have been reports of dissident voices from the country being suppressed on the platform.
TikTok also takes action against users from other countries if they post content showing the Chinese regime in an unflattering light. Notably, there have been reports of videos from Hong Kong protests being taken down.
It is the regulation of contrarian voices that saw an American teenager creatively posting a video informing her followers about the Chinese government’s repression of Uyghers in the Xinjiang province. Feroza Aziz’s video started as an eyelash tutorial before escalating into a message on the atrocities committed against the Muslim residents of the Chinese region. The video was promptly taken down as were some of her earlier content before a global outcry forced the platform’s hand and was restored.
However, the extent of government requests for content or account takedown was not known until the TikTok report.
WhatsApp—another foreign app that counts Indian users as its biggest demographic—said last year that users in the country were among those hit by the Pegasus surveillance attack and that the company reached out to the affected users. NSO Group, the Israeli maker of the Pegasus spyware, later acknowledged that it sold its surveillance software only to government agencies and not private users, thereby raising questions about the origins of the surveillance attack that targeted more than a 100 users in India.