New Delhi/Bengaluru: The Supreme Court (SC) on Monday requested the Madurai Bench of the Madras high court to hear a plea challenging the ban on TikTok by 24 April, and decide the matter by that date, failing which the ban on TikTok will automatically be vacated.
The apex court bench, comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, justices Deepak Gupta, and Sanjiv Khanna, was hearing a plea by ByteDance—the Chinese parent of TikTok—against the Madras high court order.
The special leave petition was filed by TikTok India through PLR Chambers & Co., praying for an interim relief, according to a report by legal news website LiveLaw. Among other things, the petition underscored that around 200 TikTok India employees are at risk of losing their jobs. In its plea, TikTok also contended that it is losing around ₹4.5 crore a day, and that profiles of around two million users are at stake.
Appearing for ByteDance, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi said the ban was imposed ex-parte and TikTok was not given a chance to defend itself. The bench observed in its order that there was inappropriate content, including pornography on the platform and was easily accessible to children across the nation.
Requesting for a stay, he argued that written statements are to be filed on the next date of hearing and this would further delay the case if arguments are not heard.
TikTok is an app that allows users to create and share short videos with special effects.
On 3 April, the Madurai division bench comprising justices N. Kirubakaran and S.S. Sundar passed an ex-parte order to ban TikTok mobile application. The order followed a petition filed by social activist and lawyer Muthu Kumar, alleging the app encourages cultural degradation, suicide, and child abuse.
The bench had also asked the government to ban the downloading of the app and sought an answer from it regarding enacting a statute to protect children from cybercrime, similar to the one enacted in the US, namely the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. However, the Supreme Court had refused to stay the order.
Toeing the centre’s diktat, technology companies Apple and Google pulled the app from their respective app stores even as TikTok continues to be used extensively in the country on third-party websites with the app’s engagement rates in millions.
Subsequently, ByteDance (India) Technology Pvt. Ltd, the makers of TikTok approached the Supreme Court on 15 April, requesting a stay on the ban on grounds that it has caused the company irreparable damage.
The makers of the TikTok app approached the Supreme Court requesting for an urgent hearing on 8 April which was denied by the bench headed by the Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi.
Subsequently the case came before the same bench on 15 April and the apex court refused to grant any stay on the ban of the TikTok app. However, the apex court pointed out that the ban was interim in nature and since the case was listed for hearing on 16 April before the Madras high court, respondents should approach it to lift the ban.
The Madras high court has appointed senior advocate Arvind Datar as an amicus curie to examine repercussions of the TikTok app.
According to Atul Pandey, partner, Khaitan & Co., the TikTok app adheres to multiple safety and privacy standards that are in-built by default. He advises ByteDance in India.
“The problems raised by activists and the court can be resolved by selectively censoring out or deleting content that is illegal…and I believe that companies like TikTok can start with keeping an age-lock of 18 years for users," added Pandey over the phone.
Launched in India in 2018, TikTok has around 120 million active users in the country. A large part of its user base are youngsters in small towns and cities. The app is used to capture and share short video clips.
TikTok wasn’t immediately available for a comment.