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Explained: How TikTok has users in India despite the ban

TikTok despite the ban saw more monthly active users on the platform than the social networking platform Instagram.

January 21, 2021 / 06:32 PM IST
TikTok |Video-sharing social networking app is owned by ByteDance. The platform is used to make short videos of 3 seconds to 1 minute duration. TikTok is hoping to make a comeback in India, after getting banned for months now. (Image: Reuters)

TikTok |Video-sharing social networking app is owned by ByteDance. The platform is used to make short videos of 3 seconds to 1 minute duration. TikTok is hoping to make a comeback in India, after getting banned for months now. (Image: Reuters)

The short video sharing platform TikTok was banned in India on June 29 in 2020, yet the platform is being accessed by many Indians.

The proof of this is data shared by SimilarWeb, an online portal that provides web analytics service. In its report titled Digital Trends – India, December 2020, TikTok despite the ban saw more monthly active users on the platform than the social networking platform Instagram.

TikTok which saw a big spike after coronavirus-led lockdown between March and June last year saw a significant drop in July. However, the platform saw an increase in monthly active app users between August and October.

The modus operandi

So, how was the platform accessible despite the ban?

Close

Utkarsh Sinha, MD, Bexley Advisors, a boutique investment bank focused on early-stage deals in tech and media said that the immediate ban was for new installs. New users could not download TikTok and if anybody had deleted the app could not re-install it. However, those who had the app could access the platform," he said.

He further explained, "The way app bans work is at three levels. First is at the App store level (that bans fresh downloads and turns off notifications). So, new user installs for TikTok was banned immediately. The second is at the ISP level (where even access is turned off). This was not a comprehensive ban. And the app was accessible even after the ban. And the third is at the app owner level, where the whole app is just not working."

TikTok was pulled down immediately after the ban and currently the app is not available on Play Store.

Moneycontrol checked with a few TikTok users who said that they could access the app for around 25 days even after the ban.

"I was creating and saving videos on TikTok till July but August onwards was unable to access the app," said a user on condition of anonymity.

In addition, Pulkit Sharma, co-founder and CEO, Khabri, a digital audio platform. pointed out that people who have been showcasing their talent on Tik Tok are finding alternate ways to download the app. "It can still be downloaded from various websites, which provide the .apk file (this file format allows installation from sources other than trusted ones)."

Then there is the possibility of the use of a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

Janice Verghese, a cyber lawyer who works with a cybersecurity think tank, Cyber Peace Foundation, explained that the use of VPNs allow users to bypass the ban and still access the content.

"Unlike earlier, people know more about VPNs. A simple search will tell you ways to use," she added. This is further made easy by the easy availability of free apps that help users set up VPNs, she added.

This is the most common way to access blocked sites, Verghese added.

Adding to this, Kavita Shenoy, an ex-Google employee, who is now the founder and CEO of Voiro pointed out, "From a web browser perspective I can figure out the geography from where a user is accessing a platform and shut that off but from an app perspective once you have downloaded it, it is difficult to stop the access."

It is the FOMO effect

But why use a site which is banned?

Gautam Madhavan, Founder, and CEO, MAD Influence, an influencer marketing company, explained that Indian content recently saw strong traction from international markets.

"TikTok is a global platform. It is accessible outside India in countries like Dubai, Nepal, Sri Lanka where Indian content is very much preferred. In fact, followers increased for many influencers who were not able to use the app after the ban. While influencers/content creators were not even creating content on the app, they were getting followers from international markets," Madhavan added.

Shenoy pointed out another reason why Indians continued the use of TikTok after the ban. TikTok users needed an alternative platform. However, content creation from scratch would have resulted in losing followers. Hence, Shenoy said that many TikTok users migrated to Reels, a short video sharing feature on Instagram. "A lot of TikTok users lost revenue because of the ban. But with Reels having many features in place, TikTok users had an alternative. Hence, the activity on TikTok you see post the ban is also because of content migration," said Shenoy.

Adding to this, Madhavan said that Reels benefitted the most after TikTok was banned because Instagram is a known platform. "On the other hand, short video sharing platforms like MX TakaTak, Moj had to start from scratch," he said.

Now, Shenoy is curious to know whether TikTok will continue to have a similar number of users it had during the period between August to October last year when despite the ban TikTok had more monthly active app users than Instagram.

"New trends were out after October, there were shopping festivals which means a lot of brand activities for influencers. Also, the festive period. So, many tent-pole events for influencers. At that point in time, TikTok may not have seen much traction."
Maryam Farooqui
Swathi Moorthy
first published: Jan 20, 2021 12:27 pm

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