TikTok goes down in India, its biggest overseas market

A growing number of internet service providers in India have started to block their subscribers from accessing TikTok a day after New Delhi banned the popular short-video app and 58 other services in the world’s second-largest internet market over security and privacy concerns.

Many users on Airtel, Vodafone and other service providers reported Tuesday afternoon (local time) that the TikTok app on their phone was no longer accessible. Opening the TikTok app, users said, showed they were no longer connected to the internet. (Update: ISPs said they were not blocking TikTok; the app itself had shut its access in India. India’s Department of Telecommunications has since ordered them to block TikTok with “immediate effect.”)

For many others, opening the TikTok app promoted an error message that said the popular app was complying with the Indian government’s order and could no longer offer its service. Opening TikTok’s website in India prompts a similar message.

Earlier on Tuesday, the TikTok app became unavailable for download on Apple’s App Store and Google Play Store in India. Two people familiar with the matter told TechCrunch that ByteDance, the developer of TikTok, had voluntarily pulled the app from the app stores.

The vast majority of other apps, including Alibaba Group’s UC Browser and UC News, as well as e-commerce service Club Factory, that India blocked on Monday evening remain available for download on the marquee app stores, suggesting that Google and Apple are yet to comply with New Delhi’s direction.

TikTok, which has amassed more than 200 million users in India, identifies Asia’s third-largest economy as its biggest overseas market. Nikhil Gandhi, who oversees TikTok’s operations in India, said the firm was “in the process” of complying with India’s order and was looking forward to engaging with lawmakers in the nation to assuage their concerns.

The TikTok app has been installed about 2 billion times globally, according to mobile insights firm Sensor Tower. India accounted for 611 million of those downloads, the firm said. In the quarter that would end Tuesday, the 59 apps that India has ordered banned were installed about 330 million times, the firm said. These apps had a combined monthly active user base of 505 million last month, according to mobile insights firm App Annie, the data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch.

This is the first time that India, the world’s second-largest internet market with nearly half of its 1.3 billion population online, has ordered to ban so many foreign apps. New Delhi said the nation’s Computer Emergency Response Team had received many “representations from citizens regarding security of data and breach of privacy impacting upon public order issues. […] The compilation of these data, its mining and profiling by elements hostile to national security and defence of India.”

The surprising announcement created confusion as to how the Indian government was planning to go about “blocking” these services in India. Things are becoming clearer now.

TikTok, which was blocked in India for a week last year but was accessible to users who had already installed the app on their smartphones, said last year in a court filing that it was losing more than $500,000 a day. Reuters reported on Tuesday that ByteDance had planned to invest $1 billion in India to expand the reach of TikTok, a plan that now appears derailed.

Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for Chinese Foreign Ministry, told reporters in a briefing on Tuesday that China was concerned with India’s move and that India “has a responsibility to uphold the legal rights of international investors including those from China.”