A smart phone shows living streaming of Douyin, known as TikTok overseas. Photo: SCMP/Simon Song

TikTok has a Pornography Problem in India

TikTok the viral app from China is being taken off Google and Apple app stores in India.

ByteDance is an incredible company, and its most viral app globally is called TikTok. It’s a short video app TikTok that has incredible appeal for young people. However in India it’s gotten into some problems, and rightly so. These are the growing pains of having so many million posts a day.

While the app has in recent times extended its reach in global markets, and has seen in-app purchases surge more than 200 per cent, it’s failed to protect user data or prevent the spread of pornographic (illicit) content in India.

TikTok downloads ordered to be blocked on iOS and Android in India over porn and other illegal content

Viral apps should protect the privacy and integrity of its content. ByteDance has failed to do this for how it has mined the data of minors and how it has gone “viral” in places like South Asia.

TikTok is one of the greatest threats to Instagram for global dominance of a sharing micro video app. It’s stories are enhanced with extra features that sync well with a creative Gen Z audience.

Now TikTok is facing the music. Google has blocked access to the hugely popular video app TikTok in India to comply with a state court’s directive to prohibit its downloads.

TikTok, which allows users to create and share short videos with special effects, has become hugely popular in India but has been criticized by some politicians who say its content is inappropriate. It had been downloaded more than 240 million times in India, app analytics firm Sensor Tower said in February. India is one of the new frontier for ByteDance, the company that made TikTok in 2019.

Hard to Regulate an App that Goes Viral

China is very strict about illicit content, so it’s a bit of a shock its product in India would be having these problems. TikTok has been a global runaway success since 2018 among teens and young digital creators. Older generations might find the content “cringe-worthy”, the app is a more fun version of Instagram with more random content that’s supposed to be entertaining for the young minds and hearts of this world.

Today on April 16th, 2019, the country’s main digital communications regulator, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, ordered both Apple and Google to remove the app from its app stores, per a request from High Court in Madras after the latter investigated and determined that the app.

TikTok’s rapid growth has in 2019 been mainly driven by India where 88.6 million new users downloaded the app during the period.

This is the second time in two months that TikTok’s content has been dinged by regulators, after the app was fined $5.7 million by the FTC in the US over violating child protection policies. The growth at all costs mindset of some of China’s rising startups points to them making many of the same mistakes of Silicon Valley in earlier days of the internet, that is, putting ethics low in the priority list.

Illicit Content for Children — TikTok Faces Violations

The state of Tamil Nadu state had on April 3rd, 2019 asked the federal government to ban TikTok, saying it encouraged pornography and made child users vulnerable to sexual predators. You will remember even YouTube comments are often inappropriate on Children's content.

The order in India does not impact the 120 million users in the country who already have the app downloaded.

This ruling from a social media history perspective is big though! It could impede TikTok growth, harm its reputation, and potentially pave the way for further sanctions or fines against the app in India (and elsewhere taking India’s lead). It really depends on how quickly ByteDance acts and recognizes the dangers on not regulating more strictly content on the app especially outside of China.

The app, which allows users to customize videos with a variety of effects, including adding short music sound bites, was the third most installed app during the first quarter of 2019, just behind Facebook’s WhatsApp and Messenger. This is a red hot app now meeting controversy in fact for how viral it has gone in such a short time.

Chinese Companies still Have a Reputation Problem

Chinese startups seem particularly bad at PR and responding to a crisis like this. This is because of how aggressive the Chinese Government has become in how they do diplomacy so used to strong-arm tactics, that they fail at maintaining a reputable image.

In an era where the UN’s copyright law puts a kind of ban on memes, here’s an app that’s built on them exploding in popularity in Asia.

According to Reuters, the app offers up 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.

TikTok said it had removed more than 6 million videos that violated its terms of use and community guidelines, following a review of content generated by users in India. Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and TikTok’s inability to moderate their platforms properly is no surprise due to the scale and cost of the job involved. There’s a lot of political spam on Instagram, just as there’s a lot of misinformation on Twitter, but child pornography on TikTok is another kind of beast.

ByteDance Creates Apps that go Global

But here is the magnitude of the problem for ByteDance and all of China’s tech companies. TikTok is a pilot of how China’s growing influence upon the future might take place. TikTok is the first Chinese app to make significant headway outside its home market. If they don’t handle this well, it impacts how the rest of the world will trust Chinese startups for years to come.

On top of prohibiting downloads, the High Court also directed the regulator to bar media companies from broadcasting any videos — illicit or otherwise — made with or posted on TikTok. This is highly problematic for TikTok’s digital advertising business in South Asia.

As of today, the app was still available on Apple’s platforms late on Tuesday (April 16th), but was no longer available on Google’s Play store in India. TikTok in 2019 still has epic momentum. Facebook’s scandals taught us these things don’t usually impact the business aspects of a product so viral as this.

Universal Music, Sony Music and Warner Music have asked Bytedance to pay more when their current music licensing deals for TikTok expire in a few weeks, The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg reported two weeks ago.

A Tale of Two Apps

The short video app is known as Douyin in mainland China. Bytedance walls off users of Douyin and TikTok to “avoid having problematic content created outside China viewed by domestic audiences”. This scandal would be impossible on Douyin, because China is more strict.

As Rita Liao points out, more generally the problems that TikTok is facing right now are not unfamiliar ones. Social media apps, relying on user-generated content as both the engine of their growth and the fuel for that engine, have long been problematic when it comes to illicit content. Social media apps that become popular platforms don’t have the necessary ability or man-power to censor inappropriate content. To this day Instagram, YouTube and others have significant problems with illicit content.

TikTok is Hot in India

TikTok’s viral popularity is also problematic in Asia since there’s such a massive population there.

The Short-video app TikTok attracted 188 million new users in latest quarter, that’s one of the fastest growing social media communities in the world. TikTok is a bit like what Snapchat could have been had it actually cared about going global.

How popular is TikTok in India? It’s been downloaded more than 240 million times in India, app analytics firm Sensor Tower said in February.

In 2019 is even more viral, as more than 30 million users in India installed it in January 2019, 12 times more than in the same month last year.