NEW DELHI — The Chinese video app TikTok is no longer available in Google and Apple app stores in India after Madras high court prohibited its downloads, a setback for developer Bytedance Technology’s efforts to tap users in a key market.
TikTok, which allows users to create and share short videos with special effects, is hugely popular in India but some politicians say its content is inappropriate.
Madras high court had asked the central government on 3 April to ban TikTok, saying it encouraged pornography and warning that sexual predators could target child users.
The government sent a letter requesting Apple and Google to abide by the court’s order, according to an IT ministry official.
Google blocked access to TikTok in its Play store in India to comply with the court’s directive, a person with direct knowledge told Reuters on Tuesday. The app was not available in Apple’s app store on Wednesday.
The company had faith in the judicial system and was “optimistic about an outcome that would be well received by” its millions of users in India, he added.
TikTok had been downloaded more than 240 million times in India, app analytics firm Sensor Tower said in February. More than 30 million users installed the app in January 2019, 12 times more than in the same month last year.
Jokes, clips and footage related to India’s thriving movie industry dominate the app’s platform, along with memes and videos in which youngsters, some scantily clad, lip-sync and dance to popular music.
Bytedance challenged the state court’s ban order in the Supreme Court last week, saying it went against freedom of speech rights in India.
The top court had referred the case back to the state court, where a judge on Tuesday rejected Bytedance’s request to put the ban order on hold, K. Neelamegam, a lawyer arguing against Bytedance in the case, said.
The Madras high court has requested written submissions from Bytedance in the case and has scheduled its next hearing for April 24.
Salman Waris, a technology lawyer at TechLegis Advocates & Solicitors, said the legal action against Bytedance could set a precedent of Indian courts intervening to regulate content on social media and other digital platforms.
In its Supreme Court filing, Bytedance argued that a “very minuscule” proportion of TikTok content was considered inappropriate or obscene.
The company employs more than 250 people in India and had plans for more investment as it expands the business, it said.