The social audio platform Clubhouse received 59 legal requests from Indian government authorities in 2021, the highest for any country where the service is available. This information was published by the company in March in its first transparency report, which has not been reported previously.
While the number in itself is low, it reflects the eagerness of the Indian government to use social media user data as a tool in policing and surveillance, especially when the platform in question is used for discussions of political interest.
An Entrackr review found that while India tops the number of requests for Clubhouse and Twitter, it is outdone by the United States for Facebook and Instagram parent Meta, and Microsoft-owned professional social media platform LinkedIn.
The Indian government requested takedowns of 32 user accounts, the highest of any country. It also requested user information for 48 accounts. The only other countries that have requested takedowns (without requesting user information) are Thailand, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates.
Clubhouse has also been receiving a steady flow of user complaints under the Information Technology (Intermediary Liability and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, details of which it has been publishing on a monthly basis. This has not been reported before either.
The highest number of complaints revolve around abuse and harassment, and the company has taken action against at least one abuse/harassment complaint every month since September 2021, per an Entrackr review of the data.
Intelligence, espionage and narcotics authorities in India started monitoring conversations on Clubhouse last year, according to a report by The Hindu. The comparatively high number of data and takedown requests from India appears to show at least some level of proactive snooping from the Indian government, law enforcement and intelligence authorities.
Abuse complaints from users were at their highest level last month, even though Clubhouse’s global user base growth has slowed in the months following the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While there have been enough cases of both central and state governments of all hues taking action including arrests linked to social media activities, it is also a fact that contradictory pronouncements by the judiciary have enabled this level of involvement, instead of allowing platforms to evolve their own ways to keep discussions civil.