Pakistan issues ‘final warning’ to TikTok and blocks Bigo app over ‘immoral, obscene, and vulgar content’

TikTok has come under fire in yet another country.

Pakistan has blocked Bigo Live streaming app and issued “final warning” to ByteDance’s TikTok over “immoral, obscene, and vulgar content” on the apps.

The nation’s telecom authority said it had received a number of complaints from various segments of the society over the nature of videos that circulate on Bigo and ByteDance’s app and how it is impacting “society in general and youth in particular.”

Pakistan Telecommunications Authority said in a statement that it recently relayed those concerns to ByteDance and Bigo Technologies, which operates Bigo app, and urged it to proactively “moderate the socialization and content within legal and moral limits.” But the response from these apps hasn’t been satisfactory, it said.

“Therefore, in exercise of its powers under PECA (nation’s Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act), PTA has decided to immediately block Bigo and issue final warning to TikTok to put in place a comprehensive mechanism to control obscenity, vulgarity, and immorality through its social media application.”

In a statement to TechCrunch, a ByteDance spokesperson said the company deploys a combination of technologies, and moderation strategies to detect and review problematic content that violates our terms of use. In the second half of 2019, TikTok removed 3,728,162 user videos from Pakistan.

“We are committed to further strengthening our safeguards to ensure the safety of our users, while increasing our dialogue with the authorities to explain our policies and demonstrate our dedication to user security,” the spokesperson said.

The push from Pakistan comes weeks after its neighboring nation India banned TikTok, Bigo and 57 other apps developed by Chinese firms over cybersecurity concerns.

Prior to the ban, TikTok identified India — where it had amassed over 200 million monthly active users — as its biggest market outside of China. Like in India, TikTok is also immensely popular in Pakistan, said Danish Khalid, an executive at Bykea, a Karachi-headquartered ride-hailing startup.

According to mobile insights firm Sensor Tower, TikTok was the most downloaded app in Pakistan, which has about 40 million internet users, last year.

Some activists have decried Pakistan’s warning to TikTok and blocking of Bigo Live, calling the move nation’s attempt to “test the ground to what extent they can go in censoring.”

Pakistan also placed a temporarily ban on popular mobile game PUBG earlier this week over concerns that youth in the nation were “wasting their time” on the “addictive” app.

Earlier this year, Pakistan’s government unveiled some of the world’s most sweeping rules on internet censorship that would have severely impacted American tech firms operating in the nation. But it later retreated the rules after Facebook, Google, and Twitter among other firms threatened to leave the nation.

TikTok, ByteDance’s marquee app, is also facing tension in the United States. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said earlier this month that the U.S. was “certainly looking” at banning TikTok over concerns that it could be used by the Beijing government as a surveillance and propaganda tool.

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