TikTok, the popular Chinese social networking app that lets users post videos of themselves set to music, has been banned in India, the company’s largest market.
On Tuesday night, both Google and Apple pulled TikTok from the Play and the App stores in the country following orders from an Indian High Court, which said that the app exposed Indians to pornography and could expose children to sexual predators.
ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok, had challenged the High Court’s decision in India’s Supreme Court, saying it went against free speech rights, but on Monday, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the High Court, which rejected the company’s request to defer the ban.
The move is a blow to TikTok. More than 120 million of the app’s 500 million users are from India, and the app has been a viral hit in hundreds of thousands of small Indian towns, where millions of people are getting access to the internet via smartphones for the first time.
According to data from app analytics firm Sensor Tower, more than 30 million Indians installed TikTok in January 2019, 12 times more than in January 2018.
Over the last few months, TikTok has also become popular in the United States. In November, for instance, it was the #1 free app in Apple's App Store in the US, and has an estimated 40 million users in the country. Last year, it roped in celebrities like Jimmy Fallon to endorse the app.
Existing TikTok users in India can still use the app, but people who don’t have it already can no longer download it from the Google and Apple app stores.
A TikTok spokesperson declined to comment about the ban to BuzzFeed News. In an earlier statement, TikTok had said that it had faith in India’s judicial system and was “optimistic about an outcome that would be well received” by its millions of users in India.
A Google spokesperson confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the company had pulled TikTok from the Play Store but declined to comment further, saying that the company does not comment on individual apps. Apple did not respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment.
The ban has raised concerns about free speech in India.
“Applications used by children and young adults may require study and then regulation,” said Apar Gupta, an Indian Supreme Court lawyer and director of the Internet Freedom Foundation, a New Delhi–based organization that defends online freedom in India. “These are matters of policy, and outright bans are disproportionate.”
This isn't the first time TikTok has got into regulatory trouble. In February, the FTC hit TikTok with a $5.7 million fine for illegally collecting personal information from children under the age of 13, such as their names, email addresses, and locations.