TikTok videos banned. The metaphorical ‘chicken dinner’, gone. Clothes from Shein, forget it. That’s what 2020 was for users of Chinese apps in India.
The year saw a number of Chinese apps being banned in the country, in three separate lists. Some were unheard names, while some like TikTok, SHAREiT, Likee had 100 of millions of users in India. Here’s how 2020 rolled out for the apps that got banned.
The China factor
The first list of banned apps came out on June 29, 2020 with 59 apps on it. TikTok, ShareIt, UC Browser, Shein, Likee, and CamScanner were all on it. The ban was seen as a response to India-China clashes in the Galwan Valley in Ladakh at the time.
According to an official statement, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeITY) said the apps were “prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order.” They were all banned under Section 69A of the Information Technology (IT) Act. The other two lists of banned apps also used this same section of the IT Act.
The second list was released on September 5. It was even bigger with 118 apps in total. PUBG Mobile and PUBG Mobile Lite were both on it. The list also included several other games, versions of WeChat, and VPN apps that were giving access to TikTok.
The third list came out on November 24, which included 43 apps in total. Popular e-commerce platform AliExpress, delivery and Logistics service LalaMove, short video app Snack Video, which was seeing growth in tier-2 and tier-3 towns were all added to the banned list.
TikTok and the end of Chinese short-video apps
The biggest casualty of the ban was TikTok, given it had 200 million users in India at the time, and was continuing to grow. Despite the India ban, TikTok remains the most downloaded app in 2020, beating Facebook, according to data from AppAnnie.
But TikTok had been on the radar for a while in India. In April 2019, the app was briefly taken down from Google Play Store and the Apple App Store after an order by the Madras High Court. The order had come in response to a petition which alleged that the platform was “degrading culture and encouraging pornography” and contained “disturbing content.” The petition also blamed the app for causing social stigma and medical health issues in teens.
TikTok was taken down from the respective app stores for downloads. TikTok later went to the Supreme Court arguing against the ban calling it ‘illegal,’ though the top court had refused to stay the Madras High Court’s order. By May 2019, TikTok was back for downloads on both the Google and Apple app stores as the Madras High Court lifted the ban.
While TikTok managed to weather that storm in early 2019, the app came under criticism over charges of censorship and blocking content that was seen as ‘anti-China’. In the US too, President Donald Trump had put a ban on downloads of the app, which forced TikTok-owner ByteDance to sell the US entity of the app to Oracle and Walmart. But given that Joe Biden has won the US presidency, TikTok’s fate in the US is still unclear.
In May 2020, TikTok found itself caught in the crossfire between a TikTok star and Youtube influencer in India, which impacted the app’s rating. In fact, #bantiktok became a trend on Twitter after popular TikTok star Faisal Siddiqui posted a video, which appeared to endorse acid attacks on women. This led to users downrating the app on the Google Play Store and calling for its ban in India.
In June 2020 that Twitter trend became a reality. The ban on TikTok also hit a lot of content creators on the app quite negatively, given the app was popular in tier-2 and tier-3 cities. There were many creators who were exclusively on TikTok, and not on Instagram, given the former’s mass appeal.
After the ban, Nikhil Gandhi, head of TikTok, India had said in a statement they would “submit clarifications” to the Indian government. The app also denied sharing any user data from India “with any foreign government, including the Chinese government.” For now, it doesn’t look like TikTok will be making a comeback anytime soon in India.
TikTok might have been the big name that got banned in India, but there were other short-video apps that suffered a similar fate. Popular apps such as Bigo Live and Likee, which is also owned by Bigo Technology Private Limited were also banned.
Likee in particular was seeing a lot of success in India; the app had crossed 300 million downloads in 2019 and almost half of this growth was driven by India. Interestingly, Bigo Technology Private Limited is based in Singapore, and not in China. Snack Video, which had started to fill the space left by Likee and TikTok, got banned in the third and final list.
PUBG Mobile had managed to gain a cult following in India. The game, which at one point had 50 million users in the country, was immensely popular, especially among the younger audiences.
PUBG Mobile’s growth was also spurred by the fact that India saw the launch of more affordable and powerful smartphone devices, which made it easier for a lot more players to have an enjoyable experience when playing the game. PUBG even introduced a Lite version of the game for those who did not have the best specifications on their mobile phone.
But like TikTok, PUBG Mobile had also courted some trouble. Talks of banning the game had taken the place even before the 2020 September ban. In March 2019, PUBG Mobile was banned in Rajkot, Gujarat. At the time, the Indian Express had reported that police in Rajkot had also arrested ten people for playing the game, and six of those arrested were undergraduate students.
While PUBG Mobile managed to stay out of trouble, when the first ban took place in June 2020, there were plenty of reports stating that the game would be next. By September 2020, PUBG Mobile was banned in India.
The PUBG Corporation then announced that it would revoke Tencent’s rights for publication of the game in India, given Tencent is a Chinese entity and PUBG is South-Korean in origin. However, that has done nothing to reverse the ban situation.
More recently in November, the PUBG Corporation announced plans for a comeback in India, with a dedicated PUBG Mobile India game, which would be tailored for Indian audiences. It also announced a $100 million investment in India, and said it will ensure “a secure and healthy gameplay environment,” for players in the country and that their data and privacy would be the company’s top priority.
In a statement, the PUBG Corporation said it will conduct “regular audits and verifications on the storage systems holding Indian users’ personally identifiable information to reinforce security and ensure that their data is safely managed.”
Still, the game’s return to India will be contingent on the government granting approval, which is unlikely to come so easily.
UC Browser was quite popular in India, though its market share had declined over the years, given the growing dominance of Google Chrome. In 2015, it was the world’s second most popular browser behind Google Chrome.
Owned by the China-based Alibaba group, UC Browser enjoyed popularity in India because it was pre-installed on many phones by Indian brands such as Micromax, Karbonn, Lava, Intex and others, though once these brands started to decline by 2017, UC Browser’s share was also impacted. By November 2019, it had around 16 per cent market share in India, according to Statcounter, which had declined to 6 per cent by July 2020.
Shein, Club Factory
If PUBG Mobile’s ban hit the players badly, the ban on China-based fast fashion retailers Shein and Club Factory had a similar impact on shopping addicts. Shein was known for providing the latest trends at affordable prices and was quite popular with fashion influencers on Instagram given it has the trendiest clothes, but at much lower prices compared to Zara or H&M.
Club Factory had also gained popularity in India and was seeing close to 25,000 orders a day, while Shein saw around 10,000 orders per day, according to reports. In fact, Shein was number seven in the list of most downloaded apps globally in 2019.
After the ban, Shein stopped taking orders from customers in India, and said it was working hard to “submit relevant documents required by the Indian Government to comply with the new policies.” It also said, “customer privacy is its top priority.” So far it doesn’t look like the Shein or Club Factory will be making their way back to India anytime soon.
CamScanner had a user base of around 100 million in India and was an easy solution for document management. It allows users to quickly scan their documents and convert them into PDFs or a JPEG format and share them quickly.
Of course, there are alternatives to what CamScanner offers such as Adobe Scan and Microsoft Office Lens. Still, it appeared that the app was working for some users despite the ban, though you cannot download it in India anymore.
With a base of over 400 million users in India in 2019, and 200 million monthly active users, SHAREit was another popular app on the list. The app had started as a content sharing application and later expanded into a content discovery and consumption platform as well.
SHAREit also partnered with local Indian content provider platforms to stream local digital content such as short videos, music among others. It was available in nine Indian languages including Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Punjabi, and Malayalam.
AliExpress, the e-commerce platform was a popular choice for those who wanted quirky and cheap products, especially for some electronics items that are not always available in India. While the site is still accessible in India, you will be unable to purchase any product from the site given the ban.