By Aditya Kalra and Sudarshan Varadhan
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – The Chinese video app TikTok is no longer available in Google and Apple app stores in India after a state 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.
A court in southern Tamil Nadu state asked the federal government on April 3 to ban TikTok, saying it encouraged pornography and warning that sexual predators could target child users.
The federal government sent a letter requesting Apple and Google to abide by the state 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.
Google said in a statement it does not comment on individual apps but adheres to local laws. Apple did not respond to requests for comment.
A spokesman for TikTok in India declined to comment on the app’s removal, saying the matter was still in the courts.
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 India’s 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 state 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.
(Additional reporting by Sankalp Phartiyal in Mumbai; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Darren Schuettler)