Get more with myNEWS
A personalised news feed of stories that matter to you
Learn more
TikTok acquired a whopping 88.6 million new users in India alone in the first quarter of 2019, according to Sensor Tower. (Picture: TikTok/SCMP)

TikTok, PUBG Mobile face bans in India over fears they're corrupting kids

India’s censorship move is being compared to China’s Great Firewall

This article originally appeared on ABACUS

Two of the hottest apps in India today both come from China: TikTok and PUBG Mobile. Now they have something else in common, too. The two popular apps are facing bans in India, with legal cases suggesting they are corrupting the country’s youth.

TikTok, the viral short video sensation, has its roots in China

Google and Apple could be forced to remove ByteDance’s video-sharing app TikTok from Google Play and the iOS App Store in India following a recent court case. TikTok has more than 240 million downloads in India, making it the country’s third most downloaded app behind Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.
The popular Chinese app recently became the target of an Indian court after it was noted that the platform exposes children to pornographic content. The Madras High Court in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu issued an order to the Indian government to ban the app. While further adjudication is still required, the case has the potential to evolve into a countrywide ban.
TikTok acquired a whopping 88.6 million new users in India alone in the first quarter of 2019, according to Sensor Tower. (Picture: TikTok/SCMP)
PUBG Mobile, the hit mobile game from Tencent, faces a similar fate. The battle royale shooter has more than 50 million players in India. In spite of that popularity, or because of it, the game was temporarily banned in four cities over concerns of in-game violence and game addiction.
The situation recently escalated further after the Bombay High Court directed the Indian government to check the content of PUBG Mobile and take necessary action, which could include a ban.

Reactions from Indian citizens to the prospect bans on both apps have been mixed. While many support the idea of cleaning up inappropriate content online, others worry about the precedent it sets for online censorship.

PUBG, the battle royale pioneer

“The PUBG game disease is spreading across our nation,” one supporter of the ban wrote on Twitter. “This game damages the morality of our young generation. Due to this they are not focusing well in studies.”

Others have expressed concerns about censorship.

“Despite talk of ‘Digital India’, the country is steadily creeping into a heavily censored Internet that bears no small resemblance to the Great Chinese Firewall,” Huffington Post India technology editor Gopal Sathe wrote in a piece published Tuesday. “It’s no less effective for being done in a thoughtless, piecemeal manner where dozens of agencies vie to block off parts of the Internet.”
PUBG Mobile is a mobile battle royale game licensed by Bluehole, Inc. and developed by Tencent’s Lightspeed & Quantum Studios. (Picture: Shutterstock)
Sathe isn’t the only one comparing India’s efforts to restrict the use of TikTok and PUBG Mobile to China’s ‘Great Firewall’, a catch-all term used to describe China’s censorship of foreign internet websites and services. After all, China has banned Google, Facebook, Twitter and, most recently, Twitch. The country’s government has also required Apple to remove apps from the App Store, including circumvention tools like VPNs.

Chinese netizens have also noticed the resemblance.

“Sometimes India is quite similar to China,” a Weibo user wrote. “Didn’t they say they already blocked TikTok last year?”

While Sathe fears India’s censorship could eventually be more harmful than China’s, some Chinese netizens actually envy India for having a legal system that determines whether something should be banned.

“You guys already have it good,” a Weibo user wrote in a popular comment. “Some places in the world block things without going through the courts.”
China is certainly no friendlier to graphic violence and nudity. If these Chinese apps are now facing increased scrutiny abroad, how do they survive China’s stringent censorship at home? Apps such as TikTok and PUBG Mobile actually have dedicated Chinese versions at home, which are heavily censored or toned down.

For example, the Chinese version of PUBG Mobile has characters spilling green blood rather than red. The Chinese version also includes some socialist slogans on the battleground.

Similarly, TikTok and the Chinese version, known as Douyin, function the same but are completely different apps.
TikTok and PUBG Mobile are also no strangers to government crackdown. In fact, TikTok was ordered by the Chinese government to clean up its content about a year ago.
Facing a potential ban in India, ByteDance has deleted 6 million videos on TikTok. The company also requested the country’s Supreme Court to quash the directive, arguing that it hurts free speech rights in India.

China’s viral king ByteDance is the first major Chinese tech player that made a mark on the world

India’s Supreme Court hasn’t issued a decision on the ban yet, but TikTok said it is optimistic about the hearing because it has confidence in India's judicial system and rules governing social media.
PUBG Mobile’s current predicament is also the culmination of many things. It came after four cities in Gujarat temporarily banned PUBG Mobile as the local governments believe the game is too violent and distracts students from studying.
If India ends up banning PUBG Mobile, though, it won’t be the first country to do it. Nepal beat its neighbor to officially ban PUBG Mobile. Indonesia has been considering a national ban on the game, as well, and a Muslim legal expert in Malaysia has suggested the same thing for his country.

For more insights into China tech, sign up for our tech newsletters, subscribe to our Inside China Tech podcast, and download the comprehensive 2019 China Internet Report. Also roam China Tech City, an award-winning interactive digital map at our sister site Abacus.