- India banned TikTok and 58 other Chinese apps, citing security and privacy concerns on late Monday night.
- The move comes two weeks after a border clash between Indian and Chinese troops left at least 20 Indian soldiers dead, and many believe these bans are a response.
- TikTok has responded, saying it has regularly complied with India’s guidelines and does not share user data. China has also said it follows international regulations.
- India accounts for 30% of TikTok’s 2 billion total downloads. The app has previously been banned in India after a court order raised concerns about pornography, but that ban was lifted after a week.
- According to Reuters, TikTok’s parent company ByteDance lost $500,000 a day that the platform was banned in India in 2019.
Nearly 60 Apps Banned
India has banned TikTok and 58 other Chinese apps, citing security reasons, just two weeks after a border clash between the two countries left at least 20 Indian troops dead.
India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology released a statement late Monday night saying it was banning apps that are “prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order.”
Among those apps are TikTok, WeChat and Weibo. The Ministry claimed that they had received several complaints from various sources about apps “stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorized manner to servers which have locations outside India.”
“The compilation of these data, its mining and profiling by elements hostile to national security and defence of India, which ultimately impinges upon the sovereignty and integrity of India, is a matter of very deep and immediate concern which requires emergency measures,” the statement continued.
India says this move will “safeguard” internet users in the country. However, while many believe internet security to be a valid concern, many think this move was prompted by escalating tensions between China and India.
The June 15 clash was the most violent between the two countries in 50 years. In addition to at least 20 Indian troops dying, there are an unknown amount of Chinese casualties. While this dispute was followed by calls for peaceful diplomacy, some thought a response would be inevitable.
Responses to the Ban
“The decision to ban the apps appears to be largely a political one,” Indian Internet activist and journalist Nikhil Pahwa told Forbes. “There hasn’t been any significant change to the way that these apps work in the last 3 months, and the announcement looks like it has been made to send a signal to China.”
TikTok has responded to the ban, claiming that the app has continuously followed government regulations.
“We have been invited to meet with concerned government stakeholders for an opportunity to respond and submit clarifications,” Nikhil Gandhi, the head of TikTok India, said in a statement.
“TikTok continues to comply with all data privacy and security requirements under Indian law and have not shared any information of our users in India with any foreign government, including the Chinese Government,” Gandhi continued. “Further, if we are requested to in the future, we could not do so. We place the highest importance on user privacy and integrity.”
A spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry also told reporters on Tuesday that China has been following guidelines.
“We want to stress that the Chinese government always asks the Chinese businesses to abide by international and local laws and regulations,” he said.
Some still thought that security-wise, this could be beneficial, including Brahma Chellaney, a former adviser to India’s National Security Council, who said these apps “pose a national security risk.”
Implications for TikTok
This is far from the first time that apps like TikTok have faced heat over privacy concerns. It is also not the first time India has banned TikTok. The app was made unavailable in April of 2019 after a court order raised concerns about pornographic content. The ban was lifted after a week, but according to Reuters, during that short span, ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, lost $500,000 dollars for every day that the app was banned in India.
According to an April report from Sensor Tower, India has been the biggest driver of TikTok downloads, accounting for 611 million, or 30%, of the app’s 2 billion total downloads. China, which falls second behind India in terms of downloads, only accounts for less than 10% of total installations.
Many TikTok users in India are gutted by the fact they no longer have access to the platform. One TikTok user in New Delhi told the New York Times that the app is “one of the most accepting platforms when it comes to embracing different people.”
“There is a ripple effect in TikTok,” another TikTok user told the Times. “Boys from small villages become overnight heroes. It changed their lives. Their status in society grew.”
Right now, it is unclear if this ban will be permanent. Currently, the Internet Freedom Foundation is arguing that this ban is a misuse of law, and calling for more transparency and for government data that led to this decision to be released.
See what others are saying: (Forbes) (TechCrunch) (Associated Press)
U.K. Court Rules Julian Assange Can Be Extradited to U.S.
The judgment overrules a lower court decision that blocked the WikiLeaks founder’s extradition on the grounds that his mental health was not stable enough to weather harsh conditions in the American prison system if convicted.
New Developments in Assange Extradition Battle
A British court ruled Friday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to the United States to face charges of violating the Espionage Act that could land him in prison for decades.
Prosecutors in the U.S. have accused Assange of conspiring with former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010 to hack into a Department of Defense computer network and access thousands of military and diplomatic records on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The information obtained in the hack was later published by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011, a move U.S. authorities allege put lives in danger.
In addition to a charge of computer misuse, Assange has also been indicted on 17 espionage charges. Collectively, the charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 175 years.
The Friday decision from the High Court overturns a lower court ruling in January, which found that Assange’s mental health was too fragile for the harsh environment he could face in the U.S. prison system if convicted.
Notably, the January ruling did not determine whether or not Assange was guilty. In fact, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser explicitly rejected the defense’s arguments that the charges against him were politically motivated and that he should be protected under freedom of press.
However, she agreed that the defense had provided compelling evidence that Assange suffers from severe depression and that the conditions he could face in the U.S. prison system were “such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.”
The U.S. appealed the ruling, arguing that Assange’s mental health should not be a barrier to extradition and that the psychiatrist who examined him had been biased.
In October, the Biden administration vowed that if Assange were to be convicted, he would not be placed in the highest-security U.S. prison or immediately sent to solitary confinement. Officials also said that the native Australian would be eligible to serve his sentence in his home country.
High Court Ruling
The High Court agreed with the administration’s arguments in its ruling, arguing that the American’s assurances regarding the conditions of Assange’s potential incarceration were “sufficient.”
“There is no reason why this court should not accept the assurances as meaning what they say,” the ruling stated. “There is no basis for assuming that the USA has not given the assurances in good faith.”
Assange’s fiancé, Stella Moris, said in a statement that his legal team would appeal the decision to the British Supreme Court at the “earliest possible moment,” referring to the judgment as a “grave miscarriage of justice.”
The Supreme Court will now decide whether or not to hear the case based on if it believes the matter involves a point of law “of general public importance.” That decision may take weeks or even months.
If the U.K. Supreme Court court objects to hearing Assange’s appeal, he could ask the European Court of Human Rights to stay the extradition — a move that could set in motion another lengthy legal battle in the already drawn-out process.
Assange and his supporters claim he was acting as an investigative journalist when he published the classified military cables. They argue that the possibility of his extradition and prosecution represent serious threats to press freedoms in the U.S.
U.S. prosecutors dispute that Assange acted as a journalist, claiming that he encouraged illegal hacking for personal reasons.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
Early Data Indicates Omicron is More Transmissible But Less Severe
The studies come as Pfizer and BioNTech claim that preliminary research shows a third shot of their COVID vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the new variant, but two doses alone may not.
More Information About Omicron
Several preliminary studies published in recent days appear to show that the new omicron COVID-19 variant may be more transmissible but less severe than previous strains.
One recent, un-peer-reviewed study by a Japanese scientist who advises the country’s health ministry found that omicron is four times more transmissible in its initial stage than delta was.
Preliminary information in countries hit hard by omicron also indicates high transmissibility. In South Africa — where the variant was first detected and is already the dominant strain — new COVID cases have more than doubled over the last week.
Health officials in the U.K. said omicron cases are doubling every two or three days, and they expect the strain to become dominant in the country in a matter of weeks.
In a statement Wednesday, World Health Organization Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that while early data does seem to show high transmissibility, it also indicates that omicron causes more mild cases than delta.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevent Director Rochelle Walensky echoed that sentiment, telling reporters that of the 40 known omicron cases in the U.S. as of Wednesday, nearly all of them were mild. One person has been hospitalized so far and none have died.
Studies on Vaccine Efficacy
Other recent studies have shown that current COVID vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness and death in omicron patients, and boosters provide at least some added protection.
On Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that laboratory tests have shown a third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the omicron variant, though two doses may not.
According to the companies, researchers saw a 25-fold reduction in neutralizing antibodies for omicron compared to other strains of the virus for people who had just two Pfizer doses.
By contrast, samples from people one month after they had received a Pfizer booster presented neutralizing antibodies against omicron that were comparable to those seen against previous variants after two doses.
Still, Pfizer’s chief executive also told reporters later in the day that omicron could increase the likelihood that people might need a fourth dose earlier than previously expected, which he had initially said was 12 months after the third shot.
Notably, the Pfizer research has not yet been peer-reviewed, and it remains unclear how omicron will operate outside a lab, but other studies have had similar findings.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Bloomberg) (NBC News)
40 Camels Disqualified From Beauty Contest After Breeders Inject Their Faces With Botox
The animals were barred from competing for $66 million in prizes at this year’s King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Saudi Arabia.
Camels Booted From Beauty Contest
More than 40 camels were disqualified from a beauty contest in Saudi Arabia this week after judges found artificial enhancements in their faces, marking the biggest crackdown on contestants in the competition to date.
The animals were competing for $66 million in prizes at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival, a month-long event that is estimated to include around 33,000 camels.
However, according to The Guardian, they were forced out of the contest when authorities found that breeders had “stretched out the lips and noses of the camels, used hormones to boost the animals’ muscles, injected heads and lips with Botox to make them bigger, inflated body parts with rubber bands, and used fillers to relax their faces.”
Those types of alterations are banned since judges look at the contestant’s heads, necks, humps, posture, and other features when evaluating them.
An announcement from the state-linked Saudi Press Agency said officials used “specialized and advanced” technology to detect tampering.
“The club is keen to halt all acts of tampering and deception in the beautification of camels,” the SPA report added before warning that organizers would “impose strict penalties on manipulators.”
While it’s unclear what that actually entails, this isn’t the first time people have tried to cheat in this way.
In 2018, 12 camels were similarly disqualified from the competition for injections in their noses, lips, and jaw.