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Pallabi Paul

A Study of Google Deleting Tik-Tok Negative Reviews: Whether It Interferes With The Freedom of Expression?

Introduction

The ongoing “TikTok” trend has now increased tremendous enthusiasm in people. It has started a new discussion as it questions the privileges of the right to speak freely of discourse and articulation.

Each citizen has the right to communicate his/her emotions and views. Freedom of speech and expression includes the option to pass on and get data which additionally involves the opportunity to hold assessments. It also includes the option to communicate suppositions and perspectives at any issue through any medium, for example, by talking, printing, books, motion pictures, plays, etc.

In the case of S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram1 it was held that, on any issues of general concern, everybody has the right to shape his opinion. People are permitted to condemn any arrangement, government work, and so on transparently.

Also, Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) 1948, states that “freedom of speech and expression is the right which every individual has to seek, receive and provide details as well as rights, which also involves the right of freedom to speech and expression and despite any form of interference, through any media regardless of platforms.”2

The Significance of Reviews

Reviews are a necessary aspect of vigilance as they help in improving goodwill, increasing outreach, giving fundamental inputs, and influencing choices of consumers. It pushes an individual from the reviewer’s stage and motivates him to improve his experience to an entirely new phenomenon.

It is presently one of the essential practices in business to request input from the consumers to serve them better later on. Reports remarkably affect one’s decision. Citizens trust reviews as it is an individual’s perception. Legal reports are the best approach to monitor the business as it assists with deciding if the consumers are settling on the correct decision or not. A customer’s choice to download an application altogether relies upon the application’s updates and reviews.

An ongoing research had indicated that practically half of the rational consumers would not consider downloading any application whose reviews are below 3-stars. That goes to 85% for an application having a 2-star rating. The survey shows that around 77% of citizens like to survey before choosing to download any free application. As Google is a dominant web server in India as well as throughout the world, citizens are happy to give their trust and validity to Google reports for providing reviews from confided in peers.3

Matt Southern, the editor of Search Engine Journal, on 25/06/2020 stated that “85% of the consumers think consumer reviews older than 3 months are not reliable. This issue emerges when reports are controlled and are the basis of application quality and consumers rely upon it to be credible. It analyses with the goal to provide consumers with an optimal amount of satisfaction.”4

The Reason Behind Repercussions Of Tiktok

The Director of the National Commission of Women took cognizance of the issue and said in an Interview that she accepts that TikTok should be prohibited in the Country as apart from the shocking recordings, it is making a basis for an unhealthy life. It was even said by the Madras

High Court in April 2019, that TikTok was publishing and promoting Pornography as children were helpless against exposure to the sexual substance and different complaints being raised on its Drug promotion act. Apple and Google brought down TikTok from their play store separately. However, the ban was lifted after 3 weeks on the ground that India needs to counter the problem separately compared to the United States’ Online Privacy Protection Act, 1998 for the security of children online. Thus, in the absence of substantive cyber law in India, TikTok was back on Google Play and App store.5 Due to this reason citizens had to remain calm and face the results of the application in India. But, after Faisal Siddiqui’s video, citizens became furious and a huge number of citizens used this chance to reveal the flaws and threats of the application.

TikTok was accused of facilitating content that promotes sexism, viciousness against women, gender dominant society, religion-based separation, and fake news, etc. It is also pertinent to note that India faces a lack of appropriate laws and its awareness of going into court for redressal. On these grounds, citizens used the criticism technique to communicate their views. India was uninformed of the reviews which a consumer can give on the Play Store and App Store, which was achieved by a well thought of strategy. These components of reports and updates went through different stages on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Thus, after realising that there is a stage to communicate their perspectives, people started mass rating and reviewing. Nearly 8 Million posted new reviews on the play store. Some posted positive reviews while others posted negative reviews and soon the App was declared unjust because of numerous reasons. It was not to spam TikTok but to consider the importance of input of the overall population and make it a vital move.

The consequence was that in a short period, TikTok’s reviews tumbled from 4.5 to simply 1.2 stars. Even after such allegations, google did not mediate upon it or made any move against the app. On the other hand, it removed all the posts during that time while bringing back its past reports in 3 days. Different policies contradicted control of reviews by the designers of the business or application.

However now Google itself is controlling it. A representative said that it removed negative reviews as a restorative measure to spam abuse. It defended its action by explaining that few were made to post negative reviews for the application so Google interfered in the continuous TikTok controversy and removed all the negative remarks. It was frequently said that TikTok did not engage the issues raised by the citizens through the application.

The member of Parliament for BJP, Maneka Gandhi declared that TikTok has not contemplated the criticism and declined to bring down unfavourable recordings and create risk for citizens who posted those clips. Google, by removing TikTok’s negative reports compromised the citizens’ Right to free speech and expression even in the world’s largest democracy. A development where the overall population of the nation had a just and lawful approach to communicate their views and expression, their Freedom of Expression ensured to them, was named as Spam. We currently live in an era where citizens have the option to appeal to the Hon’ble HC’s Judgment but did not get an opportunity to fight against the misuse of a mere application that is devastating the present generation. Google, in this case, has refused to think about the rights of the citizens and it numerous times had repudiated its policies.6

The Delhi High Court in October 2019 instructed Google Inc. to remove unknown posts stigmatizing artist Subodh Gupta. Google Inc. countered that conforming to this request would influence freedom of speech and expression and will be against the public interest. Google stated that it cannot eliminate the substance which it does not possess or control. However, presently it repudiated its view by removing a huge number of negative TikTok reviews which even consented to its policies. It did not bring down any certain report in handling the case. On the contrary, Apple’s application store strategy is a secret for competitors.7

In the case of Shreya Singhal v. Union of India8 where the court held that “Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression to the people of India through the Internet too.”

Conclusion

The article reasons that Google, by removing TikTok’s negative reports, has abused the right of citizens to free speech and expression. For that, it expressed false and influential motivations to implement its actions. The right to free speech includes fair or constructive criticism as well which was duly exercised by the citizens in the form of reviews. With such growing issues, there is also a need for applications, software, and technology to be a space with minimal risks for the users. Additionally, there is a need for a particular law in India for directing Children’s online security reports which would help in keeping up with a healthy atmosphere.

References

1 S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram 1989 SCC (2) 574

2 Kalyani Kale and Parvesh Bansod, “Google deleting Tik Tok negative reviews: Interference with freedom of expression” available at https://legalutility.com/why-did-google-deleted-tiktok-reviews/ (last visited on Sep 24, 2020)

3 Google Deletes millions of negative tik-to reviews, available at https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.bbc.com/news/amp/technology-52808177(last visited on Sep 24, 2020)

4 Supra note 1

5 Ibid

6 Ibid

7 “Google deletes over 80 lakh negative reviews to bring Tok-Tok’s rating to 4.4 stars”, available at https://www.google.com/amp/s/m.timesofindia.com/gadgets-news/google-deletes-over-80-lakh-negative-reviews-to-bring-tiktox-rating-to-4-4-stars/amp_articleshow/76075093.cms (last visited on Sep 24, 2020)

8 Shreya Singhal v. Union of India (2015) 5 SCC 1.

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