On June 29, India banned 59 Chinese apps after a deadly clash in the Galwan Valley in which 20 Indian soldiers lost their lives. TikTok, UC Browser, Xender, SHAREit, and Weibo were among the notable apps that were banned. There was a second round of ban on July 23, when the ministry took down mirror applications that were functioning despite the ban. This did not stop here and on September 2, the ministry banned 118 more mobile applications, including the app for mobile game PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG).
Among all these apps, the apps which had been the talk of the town were TikTok and PUBG. The TikTok app, an updated version of Musical.ly app, was launched in May 2019 after Byte Dance bought Musical.ly for $1bn (£773m) in 2017. Currently this app has a user database of 800 million worldwide and as of June 2019, it was estimated that there were 120 million monthly TikTok users in India. TikTok was downloaded in India 611 million times in this year’s first quarter, equating to 30.3% of its total downloads worldwide in the quarter and nearly double the total number of Indian downloads for all of 2019.
By the sheer size of the user database one can imagine the revenue TikTok was generating. TikTok owner Byte Dance reportedly made a profit of $3 billion on $17 billion of revenue last year. Byte Dance more than doubled its revenues from $7.4 billion in 2018 to $17 billion in 2019, according to Bloomberg.
As per a media report, Chinese tech giant Byte Dance Ltd is anticipating a loss of over $6 billion after three of its apps, including the hugely popular TikTok, were banned by India in July.
The other app that faced this deathblow was the widely popular gaming app PUBG. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, better known as PUBG, is an online multiplayer battle game. Though PUBG was created by a South Korean gaming company named Bluehole, it was the Chinese gaming company Tencent Games which brought out its mobile version. Tencent Games is part of Tencent Holdings, which is a Chinese multinational conglomerate. Tencent holds 10% stake in PUBG’s parent company, Bluehole.
Launched in 2017, the game was the mastermind of Brendan Greene, the designer of popular games like ARMA 2 and Day Z: Battle Royale. For PC, the game was designed and developed by PUBG Corporation which is actually a subsidiary of South Korean game developing company named Bluehole. To enter the gaming market of China, Bluehole held hands with the Chinese gaming company Tencent, which went on to introduce the mobile version of the game. Although it was an instant hit in the Chinese market, the game failed to get the approval of the Chinese government and hence couldn’t monetise it. On the contrary, PUBG, after a few attempts, got banned in China as the government thought it would have an adverse effect on the minds of the young. Ironically, the game is played more in India than in China as studies by Quartz in 2018 showed that 62% of the 1,000 respondents who were hooked to this game were from India.
Shares of Chinese gaming and social media powerhouse Tencent fell more than 2 percent ($14 billion) on 2nd September after the Indian ban. The reason for banning these apps is the escalating tension along the LAC between Indian and Chinese troops, especially in eastern Ladakh. Troops from both sides have surged forward to face off against each other. However, the Indian government has cited “misuse of data” collected from these apps (as posing a threat to national sovereignty) as the reason for banning them. “This decision is a targeted move to ensure safety, security and sovereignty of Indian cyberspace,” said a statement issued by India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology on 2nd September. The government said it had received complaints that Indian users’ personal data had been stolen through these apps. The government did not link the ban to the killing of 20 Indian soldiers along the border by Chinese troops. While the deaths were widely reported in Indian news media, the government has provided no details of what happened.
It can be said that the bans on mobile applications is a step towards striking back at China, by attacking its pockets. The billions of revenue that these apps generated will now vanish. The youth of India may not be happy with these bans, but their parents and teachers were wishing for this for years! For parents whose children had fallen prey to this addiction, this has been a very welcome move. It had been widely reported that PUBG was spreading like wildfire, catching in its thrall students from school to college level. The government’s ban has improved traffic on other gaming apps like Free Fire, Call of Duty, etc. Users of the TikTok app are being taken over by apps like Dubsmash, Chingari, Byte, Likee etc.
—The writer works at IUST Awantipora. [email protected]