Many Indian TikTok users were shocked last week when they found that the immensely popular short video app was no longer accessible in the country. After deadly clashes between Chinese and Indian soldiers at a disputed Himalayan border site, the Indian government swiftly banned the video platform along with 58 other apps made by Chinese companies.
But some users had their spirits lifted this week when it looked like they might once again be able to their daily fix of 15-second videos. SMS messages inviting users to download an app called TikTok Pro started circulating in the country. Unfortunately for TikTok fans, this app isn’t related to the original. TikTok owner ByteDance said it has nothing to do with it.
Despite carrying the same name and logo, the app doesn’t provide access to any videos from the TikTok platform, and it doesn’t allow users to create their own. Instead, it bombards its users with ads and links to download other apps. The knock-off app also requests access to users’ photos, files, contacts, location, messages and more, potentially revealing private data and exposing users to malware and spyware.
Indian users reported on social media that they have been receiving multiple SMS messages with a URL link to the app. Tapping on the link automatically downloads TikTok Pro, which asks Android users to change their settings to allow for app installations from unknown sources. Twitter user Purushotham gowd also noted that it looks like the message was forwarded to his contacts after he clicked the link.
It’s unclear how many users were fooled by the ruse or where the app came from. Local media outlets have advised against downloading TikTok Pro for safety reasons. But many Indians, including around one million influencers who spent a significant amount of time growing a following on the platform, have expressed disappointment with the government’s decision to block the app in the country.
Meanwhile, both local and international rivals have made moves to take TikTok’s place. Instagram has been quietly testing Reels, a short video feature similar to TikTok. The feature is already live in a few countries, but it recently started testing it in India, Business Insider reported. Local apps Chingari and Roposo have also seen a surge in downloads.
YouTube is reportedly working on a TikTok competitor of its own called Shorts, according to The Information. The Google-owned platform recently found success in India with its music streaming platform YouTube Music, beating out Spotify and local competitors.
While TikTok Pro is taking advantage of a unique situation in India, shady TikTok-related software is nothing new. In March, the Digital Forensic Research Lab found more than 50 apps on Google Play offer likes, followers or shares for TikTok users who want to boost their presence on the platform. Many of them are scams, promising engagement services in return for watching ads and handing over personal data.