TikTok stopped working in India on Tuesday as the company appeared to comply with a ban announced a day before by the Union government, which said that the widely used video sharing tool and 58 other mostly Chinese apps were a threat to national security.
Those who had the application were no longer able to use it, and it no longer came up in searches on the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store, while the company disabled the webpage. Some of the other prominent applications – such as WeChat and CamScanner – continued to work and were available on the application stores of both platforms till Tuesday night.
“TikTok has been removed from both the app stores,” said an official from the ministry of electronics and information technology (MEITY), asking not to be named. “The cyber cell is working to ensure the other apps are taken down as well.”
A MEITY spokesperson confirmed that the TikTok ban had come into force. TikTok, according to Bloomberg data, had nearly 200 million users in India as of January this year and had become one of the most prominent social media tools used by young Indians.
In a statement issued by TikTok on Twitter on Tuesday, the company’s India head, Nikhil Gandhi, said: “The Government of India has issued an interim order for the blocking of 59 apps, including TikTok, and we are in the process of complying with it. We have been invited to meet with concerned government stakeholders for an opportunity to respond and submit clarifications.”
HT was not able to independently verify if there was a meeting planned since MEITY officials did not respond to requests for a comment on this.
In addition to the app not being visible on the app stores, TikTok also appeared to disable access to Indians on its website, redirecting instead to a “notfound” page.
The Chinese government said on Tuesday it was “strongly concerned” about New Delhi’s decision to ban the apps, adding that the move was against “India’s interests”. The ban follows what has been a period of hostility not seen for decades between the two neighbours over the disputed territory in Ladakh.
“China is strongly concerned about the relevant notice issued by the Indian side. We are checking on and verifying the situation,” foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at the regular ministry briefing on Tuesday.
Zhao reminded New Delhi of its responsibilities towards foreign companies. “The Indian government has the responsibility to uphold the legitimate and legal rights of the international investors, including the Chinese ones,” he said.
According to experts, the ban seems to have been enforced by a voluntary disabling of services in India by TikTok for the time being. “It does not work because the developers rerouted requests from Indian IP addresses to the error page. If it was blocked by ISPs, there would be a different message displayed,” explained Anand V, an independent cybersecurity researcher.
The ban on the 59 applications was under discussion since early June but picked up pace following the fatal confrontation between Indian and Chinese troops in Galwan Valley in the middle of the month.
MEITY cited complaints from agencies as well members of public that these applications were relaying data of Indian users to outside of the country. “The compilation of these data, its mining and profiling by elements hostile to national security and defence of India, which ultimately impinges upon the sovereignty and integrity of India, is a matter of very deep and immediate concern which requires emergency measures,” the ministry said in a statement on Monday while announcing the move.
Experts said there must be more clarity on what legal provisions were used to put the ban in place, citing what they said were two particular ways this could be done and one did not require an inter-ministerial review committee: the emergency order route.
“If tech platforms operating in India received an order directing blocking of access, they would normally do so. They should have asked under what process and legal authority that was being done, and why an emergency order was being issued — and the channels to be able to push back in such review,” said Raman Jit Singh Chima, lawyer and Asia Pacific policy director at Access Now, an international digital rights group.
(With inputs from Binayak Dasgupta)