TikTok's meteoric growth has been dealt a major blow with the Indian Government banning it, along with many other Chinese-originated apps, amid ongoing tensions between the two nations over the Line of Actual Control.
As reported by India Today:
"The government of India has decided to ban 59 apps of Chinese origin as border tensions simmer in Ladakh after a violent, fatal face-off between the Indian and Chinese armies. [...] The government said these apps were engaged in activities that were prejudicial to the sovereignty, integrity and defence of India."
Among the various apps impacted are TikTok, WeChat and fast-growing video app Likee.
But TikTok will likely feel it the most. While the short-form video app has been gaining traction across the world, India is by far it's biggest market outside of China.
Going on reported usage data - not total download numbers - TikTok's four biggest markets are:
- 400 million daily active users in China (using Douyin, the Chinese version of the app)
- 81 million monthly active users in India
- 26.5 million monthly active users in the US
- 23 million monthly active users in Turkey
As you can see, its Indian audience is more than 3x the size of its US market. India may not as lucrative, in an advertising sense, but the Indian market is growing fast, and TikTok's presence in the region is key to its ongoing growth plans.
But then again, TikTok has already dealt with uncertainty in the region.
The app was temporarily banned in India last year due to concerns around derogatory content, which eventually saw TikTok remove some 6 million posts. Earlier this year, TikTok was in the spotlight again when rival Indian YouTube and TikTok stars criticized each other, which lead to a flood of negative reviews of the app on the Google Play store. Google eventually removed the critical reviews.
Given this, TikTok has already been managing a level of instability in the Indian market - though thus far, it's been able to continue operating, and building its audience. This latest action is the most significant it's faced yet, and while there's no way of knowing how long it will last, it could add significant pressure to the app, which could see it put even more focus on other regions.
It may also see TikTok look to further distance itself from its Chinese roots. Already, TikTok has appointed a US CEO, and even claimed, at one stage, that parent company ByteDance is now based in the Cayman Islands, severing links with Chinese rule. That could be one way for TikTok to claim isolation, and continue its operations internationally.
Worth noting, too, that, this week, TikTok has also moved to separate management of user data for European users away from its US arm, further dividing its systems and processes.
Those moves all point to TikTok shifting away from ByteDance, and thus, China's cybersecurity laws which compel local companies to share user information with the Chinese Government. But complete separation remains a significant challenge, and while TikTok remains linked to China, questions will remain around its processes.
And in India, those links will also be tied to ongoing tensions between the nations. Various international organizations have advised caution around TikTok use because of those links, and various investigations have noted the high amounts of user data that TikTok sucks in.
Thus far, TikTok has continued to grow despite these concerns, but as demonstrated here, they can lead to significant impacts, very quickly, for the platform.
Also, as a related aside, this just might be the best time for YouTube to release its TikTok-like 'Shorts' option to Indian users.