India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has banned TikTok, WeChat, and several dozen other China-based apps it views as “engaged in activities … prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India,” according to a press release. A total of 59 apps are on the banned list.
India is a huge market for TikTok, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance. According to SensorTower data from April, 30 percent of TikTok’s 2 billion downloads came from India. Messaging app WeChat, owned by Chinese internet company Tencent, has more than 1 billion users worldwide.
TikTok’s India chief acknowledged the government order in a statement while denying that it had ever shared user information with the Chinese government. WeChat did not immediately reply to requests for comment Monday.
It’s not the first time India has banned TikTok. Last year, the government instructed Google and Apple to remove the app from their respective app stores over concerns about pornography on the platform. Indian lawmakers said TikTok was encouraging the spread of explicit content and “cultural degradation.” The ban was lifted after about a week.
Tensions between China and India are high, following an incident earlier this month at the border that left 20 Indian soldiers dead. It’s not clear how big a role the geopolitical situation had in India’s decision to ban TikTok. However, the platform has seen widespread criticism for ongoing security concerns; in February 2019, TikTok paid $5.7 million to the Federal Trade Commission over alleged violations of COPPA, a children’s privacy law. It had been allowing children under 13 years old to sign up for the app without parental consent. It’s since made changes to the app that increased parental controls.
Several US government agencies, including the Transportation Security Administration, the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the Navy, and the Army, have banned the use of the app on government-issued devices, citing security concerns over ByteDance’s connections to the Chinese government.
It’s also not clear whether India’s ban on TikTok is somehow related to recent security concerns about how the app was handling clipboard content on some devices. Last week, users of a beta version of iOS 14 noticed that TikTok was accessing content on their devices’ clipboards, a practice the company had pledged to stop several months ago. TikTok said it was accessing clipboard content as an “anti-spam” measure, and added it had since submitted an update to the App Store.