The Indian government lifted a ban on downloads of the TikTok video app on Wednesday, Reuters cited two lawyers in the case as saying, reversing orders for Apple and Google to remove the app from their stores.
Earlier this month, the Indian Ministry of Electronics and Information technology ordered Apple and Google to remove the app from their respective App Store and Play Store—after authorities in the state of Tamil Nadu began pursuing a ban on the basis it was spreading porn and other illicit content, as well as complaints from a state legislator that TikTok was encouraging “cultural degeneration.” Concerns were also raised that TikTok was resulting in widespread cyberbullying (including reports that a 15-year-old girl had died by suicide after being harassed on the app). The resulting court battle escalated to the point where India’s Supreme Court was asked to weigh in.
The order only ever affected the stores, not users who already had the app downloaded onto their phones. According to Reuters, TikTok developer Beijing ByteDance Technology Co. had attempted to convince the Supreme Court to overrule the ban, but it was punted back down to the Tamil Nadu judiciary. The news agency wrote that ByteDance found more luck in state court, winning a reversal this week:
But on Wednesday, hearing a plea from ByteDance, the state court reversed its April 3 decision pushing for the ban, K. Neelamegam, a lawyer who argued against ByteDance in the case, told Reuters.
Neelamegam added that his client, an individual who had filed a public interest litigation calling for the ban, did not plan to appeal the court’s latest decision.
A senior government official told Reuters the IT ministry, once it received the court’s order, would ask Apple and Google to allow the TikTok app to return on their platforms.
Another lawyer told Reuters that ByteDance had argued in state court that it was a platform and not liable for user-generated content.
A recent report from SensorTower estimated that TikTok had grown by 188 million new users in the last quarter, around 88.6 million of them in India. As TechCrunch noted, ByteDance had argued in court filings that the ban was estimated to have resulted in one million users dropping the app and around six million downloads being blocked, resulting in financial losses of approximately $500,000 a day and a threat to 250 jobs. TikTok said it had 120 million monthly active users throughout India, TechCrunch wrote.
“We are grateful for the opportunity to continue serving our users better,” a TikTok spokesperson told Reuters in a statement.
Shortly before the ban went into effect, TikTok seemed to be in damage control mode. It said it had removed six million videos it deemed in violation of content guidelines in India and introduced an age-gate system to prevent users younger than 13 from accessing its platform.
Months before that, the app had run into trouble stateside. The Federal Trade Commission issued a $5.7 million fine against its operators in February 2019 for violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act by Musical.ly, a competing app that was acquired by ByteDance for huge sums of money in 2017 and merged into TikTok in 2018. The FTC claimed that Musical.ly Inc. was “aware that a significant percentage of users were younger than 13 and received thousands of complaints from parents.”