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India Bans Nearly 60 Chinese Apps, Including TikTok and WeChat

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  • 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)

International

Petition Calls for Ban on Sexualized Fanfiction in South Korea

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  • A petition circulating across South Korea calls for sexualized fanfiction depicting K-pop stars and other real people to be outlawed and classified as sex crimes.
  • The petition particularly focuses on the way male stars are depicted in same-sex relationships and argues that they often feature people who are minors.
  • A similar petition was submitted last week to President Moon Jae-in; however, it focused on deep fakes. Because both petitions have over 200,000 signatures, they will need to be addressed by President Moon.

K-Pop Fanfiction Causes Chaos

A petition began circulating across South Korea this week demanding that “real person slash” fanfiction works be outlawed and charged as sex crimes.

“Real person slash” refers to a specific form of fanfiction that most often features sexualized versions of K-pop stars and other real people.

In particular, the petition focuses on the way male stars are depicted in same-sex relationships and the age of some of the people being portrayed. The petition notes, “due to the nature of the profession of idols, whose average age is young, many of the victims are still minors or children.”

The petition was submitted to the Blue House, South Korea’s version of the White House, and currently has over 200,000 signatures. It received a big boost in attention after K-pop star Nancy, from the group Momoland, was secretly filmed by a member of her agency while she was changing backstage. This person then doctored some of the images and uploaded them online.

While Nancy’s case isn’t hand-drawn fanfic, it did fuel outrage at what’s seen as an ineffective approach towards sex crimes in the country. Signers of this petition believe that these fanfics fall into the same category of likely illegality as deep fakes.

Deep Fakes Also Being Targeted

Additionally, just last week deep fakes – which often feature k-pop stars – had its own petition submitted to the president last week with over 300,000 signatures.

Because both petitions have over 200,000 signatures, they will need to be addressed by President Moon Jae-in

For years South Korea has struggled with secret cameras, deep fakes, revenge porn, and more violent sex crimes, such as the infamous Nth Room case that saw certain stars filming themselves having sex with women against their consent.

See What Others Are Saying: (CNA) (The Korea Herald) (South China Morning Post)

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Italy Begins Largest Mob Trial in Decades

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  • Italian prosecutors have started their trial against more than 320 defendants linked to the  ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate.
  • The charges range from murder and drug trafficking to extortion and money laundering.
  • The case is so large, high-profile, and potentially dangerous that the government built a bunker for the event in Calabria, the home territory of the ‘Ndrangheta.
  • Details uncovered could deliver a massive blow to organized crime in Italy and potentially across the world as the ‘Ndrangheta has major dealings in Europe, Australia, and the Americas.

Hundreds of ‘Ndranghetisti Facing Charges

A major mob trial kicked off in Italy Wednesday involving more than 320 defendants who are part of or associated with the ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate.

In addition to these defendants going on trial, 90 others have elected for a fast-tracked trial elsewhere in Calabria.

While this is a massive affair, it’s still not the country’s largest mob-related trial in history. That happened in the ’80s against the Cosa Nostra from Sicily.

The trial is so high-profile and potentially dangerous that the government built a bunker for the event in Calabria, close to the home territory of the ‘Ndrangheta.

The court is looking at many charges against the defendants, including extortion, drug and arms trafficking, money laundering, and Mafia association – a term used in Italy’s penal code for members of organized crime.

Breaking Into the Family

Investigators hope that the trial will show just how entrenched organized crime is in the territory, as it’s believed that the ‘Ndrangheta has dealings with local politicians and businessmen. These dealings are believed to not only stem from their illicit activities but also from their legitimate businesses that were initially funded via crime-related funds. Either way, the trial is seen as a major blow for the group.

The organization is made up of multiple groups of tight-knight families that are all interconnected. For years investigators have tried to get more information on the group but following the arrest and prosecution of Luigi Mancuso, a boss in the ‘Ndrangheta, investigators finally had a way to look more closely at 12 families who make up part of the ‘Ndrangheta.

During their investigation police and prosecutors managed to turn some members of those families and use them as informants. They are expected to take the stand as witnesses during the trial. In total, prosecutors hope to put bring out over 900 witnesses.

If successful, this could be a massive blow to organized crime in Italy and potentially across the world as the ‘Ndrangheta has major dealing in Europe, Australia, and the Americas.

See What Others Are Saying: (ABC News) (LA Times) (Chicago Tribune)

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Hundreds Sickened By Mysterious Illness in India

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  • A mystery illness has hospitalized over 500 people in India and is linked to one death. While most people have recovered and been discharged from the hospital, under 100 people are still being treated.
  • Health officials believe that it is not a viral infection and that it is not tied to the coronavirus pandemic. One official told The Washington Post that it is a “point source epidemic,” but no one knows what is causing it.
  • Blood tests showed patients had high levels of lead and nickel and officials are trying to find what is behind that. Some are also pointing to pesticides used in mosquito treatment as a potential cause behind the outbreak.
  • Still, health officials are puzzled, and the situation comes while India currently trails the United States as the country with the most coronavirus cases. This mystery outbreak is also occurring in one of the hardest-hit states.

Mystery Illness in India

Health officials are still looking for what might be causing a mysterious illness that has sickened hundreds of people this month in India. 

The unidentified illness has put over 500 people in the hospital and taken one life. Most patients have been discharged and recovered but under 100 are still being treated. The disease was first reported on Sunday, and new instances have gone down since the start of the week.

The outbreak started in the state of  Andhra Pradesh. Symptoms range from nausea to anxiety to loss of consciousness, and in some cases, seizures. Some reports say the patient who died suffered from a seizure. Others note they may have fallen as well.

Many patients describe the sickness as hitting them quickly and suddenly as they were going about their day. Some got foggy vision, sore eyes, or incredibly tired before passing out. Many woke up in the hospital and were left with a gap in their memory. 

While the cause of this disease is unknown, health officials do not believe it is tied to the coronavirus in any way as no patients have tested positive. The illness is also not believed to be a viral infection of any kind. 

“What has been established by experts is that this is a case of acute intoxication of toxins. It is not chronic in nature. This is all we know for now,” one high-ranking official told The Washington Post. 

Because cases are already slowing significantly, some believe it might have stemmed from an isolated source or event. 

“This is a point source epidemic,” another official told the Post. “Whatever happened, occurred for one particular day and some people got affected. The number of new patients has dropped.”

Potential Causes

What that source or event may have been remains a mystery that officials are eager to solve. So far, no commonalities have been found between the patients as they all live in different places, are of different ages, and do not test positive for other kinds of illnesses that could be causing or contributing to this outbreak. Clues are beginning to emerge, though. 

One medical official told Al Jazeera that high lead and nickel levels were found in the blood tests of patients. So far, ten have been tested and another 30 will be tested shortly. At first officials thought these levels may have been a result of water contamination, but after water tests were conducted, neither lead nor nickel were found. 

Water contamination as a whole has not been ruled out though. 

“Health experts suspect that excessive use of bleaching powder and chlorine in sanitation programmes as part of Covid-19 prevention measures may be the cause of water contamination,” the Health Minister of Andhra Pradesh told the Indian Express. “This is just one of the causes we are exploring.”

Another theory at play stems from the fact that organochlorines, which are used as pesticides in mosquito control, were found in some water samples. One of the federal legislators in the state believes that the sickness could be tied to that. A public health director confirmed to Al Jazeera that “it is one of the possibilities.”

Timing With COVID-19

Still, all these ideas simply remain possibilities and officials have far more questions than they have answers about this situation. Health officials from the country and the World Health Organization have established a presence in Andhra Pradesh to get to the bottom of the situation.

The timing of this outbreak is unfortunate as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread through India. While daily cases are much lower than they were when it peaked in September in the country, it still remains an issue. 

India is behind the United States in seeing the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases, totaling 9.7 million infections. Around 141,000 people have died in the country. In August, their outbreak was the fastest growing in the world. Andhra Pradesh is among the hardest-hit states in the country. 

Hope is on the horizon as India, like many other countries, could be on track to approve a vaccine within weeks. According to Reuters, health officials will prioritize 300 million people, including healthcare workers, policemen, and those above the age of 50.

See what others are saying: (Al Jazeera) (Indian Express) (Washington Post)

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