Pakistan ready to unblock TikTok if ‘vulgar’ content removed

Pakistan ready to unblock TikTok if ‘vulgar’ content removed
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Updated 12 October 2020

Pakistan ready to unblock TikTok if ‘vulgar’ content removed

Pakistan ready to unblock TikTok if ‘vulgar’ content removed
  • Adverse economic effects include depriving creators of livelihoods, deterring investors and harming digitization policy

KARACHI: TikTok will be unblocked in Pakistan if the platform removes “vulgar” content, a government minister said Saturday.

The Chinese app was banned for failing to remove “immoral” content after being given time to comply with instructions from the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).

Information and Technology Minister Syed Aminul Haque said the block would be lifted if the app carried out the required cleanup.

"For the time being, (TikTok) has been closed,” he told Arab News. “If they give a guarantee, then it will be allowed to reopen. They were warned twice during the last three months to remove the vulgarity-related content. Every time they promised, but did not comply.” 

He said that the government was ready to talk to TikTok.

“If they approach (us), we will sit with them and after removal of the content, it (the app) will be restored,” Haque added.

In September the PTA said it had approached TikTok to immediately block “objectionable content” available on its platform in Pakistan and prevent the use of its platform “for disseminating illegal content.”

It did not say at the time what actions it would take if TikTok did not comply.

The decision to block the app has caused a debate, with experts warning that it would have an adverse economic impact.

“Platforms like Facebook, YouTube and TikTok are the cheapest source of marketing outreach and fastest conversion sources,” Badar Khushnood, a member of the National E-Commerce Council, told Arab News. “If the touch points of access to the market are closed and we don’t understand their needs, then many small and micro businesses will be affected. Their marketing cost was low due to these marketing tools. It would be far better to make a decision by multi-stakeholder engagement. We need to understand how these new communication technologies operate. How to align our cultural, religious, and national agendas with them for this deep multi-stakeholder engagement is must.”

The ban is also seen as detrimental to the government’s Digital Pakistan Policy to accelerate digitization for economic development.

“It shows a regulatory environment where apps can be blocked and that makes the environment unfriendly to investors, especially in the tech sector at a time where the IT sector is growing," Usama Khilji, director of Bolo Bhi, a civil society organization geared toward advocacy, policy, and research in the areas of digital rights in Pakistan, told Arab News. “Moreover, apps like TikTok are a source of income for thousands of content creators, with some having a following of more than 10 million. This shows the economic potential that such a ban averts to the detriment of so many creative Pakistanis.”

One of Pakistan's most popular TikTok celebrities, Hareem Shah, said the ban would affect those who made a living from the platform.

“If we look at TikTok, there are many poor (people) who have taken to this platform as a means of livelihood,” she added. “Their means of livelihood has been taken away ... This should not happen.”

According to political analysts, blocking social media platforms made Pakistan look like a country that was unenthusiastic about allowing innovative disruptive technology companies to grow.

Pakistan blocked five dating apps in August: Tinder, Tagged, Skout, Grindr and SayHi. 

In July, the PTA said it had banned the Singaporean live-streaming app Bigo over “immoral, obscene and vulgar content.” Bigo was subsequently unblocked. The hugely popular online game PUBG was also banned in Pakistan throughout July.

“Applying laws in such a broad manner does not send the right message to local and international investors and start-ups,” political economist Uzair Younus told Arab News. “It raises clouds over Pakistan’s technology sector.”

Hong Kong censorship debate grows as Internet firm says can block ‘illegal acts’

Hong Kong censorship debate grows as Internet firm says can block ‘illegal acts’
Updated 15 January 2021

Hong Kong censorship debate grows as Internet firm says can block ‘illegal acts’

Hong Kong censorship debate grows as Internet firm says can block ‘illegal acts’
HONG KONG: The company which approves Internet domains in Hong Kong said it will now reject any sites that could incite “illegal acts,” raising new concerns about freedoms after Beijing’s imposition of a national security law on the Chinese-ruled city last year.
Holders of .hk domains were advised of the policy change late on Thursday, sources told Reuters, hours after Internet service provider Hong Kong Broadband Network (HKBN) said it had blocked access to HKChronicles, a website offering information about anti-government protests.
The moves came just days after the arrest of over 50 pro-democracy activists, and sources have told Reuters that China is planning a further crackdown.
HKBN said it had blocked the website, which also publishes personal information on Hong Kong police officers, in compliance with the national security law, the first such censorship in the city of its kind.
Anti-government protests in 2019 relied heavily on social media channels like Telegram which allowed protesters to organize anonymously. Many sites also sprung up in support of the protest movement, though a number shut after the passage of the security law.
In the emails, the Hong Kong Domain Name Registration Company (HKDNR) alerted holders of .hk domains to the new “acceptable use” policy by its parent, Hong Kong Internet Registration Corporation Limited (HKIRC), which goes into effect on Jan. 28, according to copies shared by recipients with Reuters.
It said it could reject applications for new .hk sites that it believes could incite criminal acts, abuse privacy or provide false or misleading information.
It was not immediately clear whether the policy will apply to existing .hk websites. The HKIRC, the HKDNR and the Hong Kong government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“The rollout of the acceptable use policy is quite worrying,” said one website operator who declined to be identified, citing fear of repercussions.
“Things like providing false or misleading information, who are they to decide? Are these preventive measures for future false news regulations?“
The moves are fueling worries that a censorship mechanism similar to China’s “Great Firewall” is being put in place in Hong Kong.
While the Internet in mainland China is heavily censored and access to many foreign platforms like news sites is blocked, residents in Hong Kong have so far enjoyed greater freedoms under the “one country, two systems” framework that it was promised when Britain handed it back to China in 1997.
China Mobile and PCCW, the other major Internet providers in Hong Kong, did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.
Wong Ho Wah, who is running for Hong Kong’s legislature to representing the information technology sector, said he was deeply worried that Hong Kongers’ freedom to access information on the Internet was starting to be affected.
“The government has the responsibility to explain the justification and the rationale of the action,” he said, referring to the blocking of HKChronicles’ website.