This week, the Indian government banned TikTok ($BYTEDANCE), WeChat ($HK:700) and 57 other apps deemed “prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defense of India, security of state and public order.”
That’s right, your favorite TikTok dancer is actually a threat to sovereignty of the world’s second-largest country. Really though, it’s these apps' alleged theft of user data and mining practices that were specifically identified as threats. India has the second most internet users in the world after China, and losing access to that market represents a huge blow to two of China’s largest apps.
This isn’t TikTok’s first spat with the Indian government. In 2019 the app was temporarily banned for allegedly encouraging pornography and posing a risk to minors. But this looks to be a little more permanent. In an extremely “We Hear For You” move, TikTok published an over 1,000-word response on Monday — titled “Updates on our Security Roadmap” — that fails to include a single mention of the terms “stealing,” “mining,” or even “India.”
Of parent company Bytedance’s 685 current job openings, 16 were in the Indian cities of New Delhi, Mumbai, and Guragaon. It’s likely that these jobs will disappear in the coming weeks or even days if the ban is not reversed as the previous one was.
The silver lining for Bytedance is that quarantine has propelled TikTok to become one of the most popular apps in the world.
TikTok’s App Store review shot up 80% from January. Twitter followers are up 76% and the app was downloaded 315 million times across IOS and Android devices, according to Forbes. Losing access to India’s nearly hundreds of millions of users might hamper long-term growth, but Bytedance may be able to recoup the losses thanks to all their new users in other markets.
Chinese titan Tencent also took fire as their messaging app WeChat was included in the ban. With over a billion users, WeChat is one of the most popular apps in the world - though it’s also had its share of controversies. In May, University of Toronto research group Citizenlab released a report creatively titled “We Chat, They Watch” which alleged the app was censoring and collecting non-Chinese users’ data.
WeChat’s Twitter following is up by about 3,000 users year-over-year, but is on a steady decline that is likely going to continue or stagnate thanks to the loss of its Indian users. The app will no doubt remain popular in China where it already has a billion users, even if it just lost access to the next biggest available market.
But don’t shed any tears for Tencent, which will surely fight India’s decision but can ultimately rest easy. Why?
Because Tencent is the biggest gaming company in the world, that’s why. Tencent is hiring about 7,830 people across the parent company and its largest subsidiaries. Though its ownership stakes range from complete to 5%, nearly every company here has new major releases on the horizon. Riot Games just released the wildly popular shooter VALORANT and has several other games in the pipeline. Epic Games’ Fornite continues to be the biggest game in the world. Activision Blizzard supports some of the largest games in the world and will release a new Call of Duty game and World of Warcraft expansion by the end of the year.
You get the picture. Tencent has a solid cushion to rely on as it tries to figure out where to take WeChat.
Ultimately the massive companies that own these apps will survive off the backs of other markets and products, but a setback of over a billion potential users is nothing to shrug off. If Bytedance or Tencent are able to fight off India’s decision the way Tiktok’s 2019 ban was, they might still face harsh regulation on the other side.
The Press Information Bureau of India published the full list of the 59 banned apps here.
About the Data:
Thinknum tracks companies using the information they post online - jobs, social and web traffic, product sales, and app ratings - and creates data sets that measure factors like hiring, revenue, and foot traffic. Data sets may not be fully comprehensive (they only account for what is available on the web), but they can be used to gauge performance factors like staffing and sales.