NEW DELHI – Despite security concerns over its use and a brief ban in 2019, China’s popular short-video app TikTok remains a rage among young Indians chasing stardom and online followers.
Indians accounted for 44 percent of its total 738 million installs in 2019, indicating the popularity boom in just three years since its launch in a country that has over 400 million internet users with access to some of the world’s cheapest data services, according to market analyst Sensor Tower.
So what is driving Indians so crazy about the app owned by the China-based ByteDance?
“Making videos is very easy, quick and fun. I record my videos hoping that they will go viral,” Rajeev, 17, a TikTok user in New Delhi, told EFE.
“I know I can be famous. (It) is a matter of keep trying and trying,” he said, recording his latest clip in the capital’s Connaught Place, a popular destination for youngsters shooting videos with a hope to earn quick money and fame.
TikTok content includes dance and singing performances and educational and motivational videos.
“I create short lessons on the English language with explanations in Hindi. I cover everything about English, from grammar to vocabulary. I teach in a funny and interesting manner, through sketches, mimicry, role-plays,” Awal Madaan, a TikTok influencer with a whopping 7.1 million followers, told EFE.
Madaan emphasized on its ease of use, adding that a one-minute video can be made and posted within five minutes.
“I don’t need anything apart from my phone. The TikTok app contains all the editing tools, from sound to visual effects. A concept can strike you at any time. I have shot videos attending a wedding or eating at a roadside shack.”
However, the application has had its share of controversies in India amid concerns over the reported inappropriate content, including pornography.
In April, a south Indian court imposed a ban, calling it “dangerous for children.” However, it was lifted three weeks later after the company said it had taken measures to filter objectionable content.
The app has also faced heat over the ramifications of its access to user data. The United States Navy banned its employees from using it amid growing concerns over the massive influence of Chinese companies that are required to share information with the China government.
“There are concerns related to this growing app: data security and regulations. Data security has been a major concern (…) for the social networking sites; it is a nightmare along with the data privacy. At times, it is seen as a tool to spread propaganda, create instability,” Aamir Khan, a senior IT analyst with an international consultancy in India, told EFE.
“TikTok (…) it is not immune to misuse. Its rapid popularity is a major concern for authorities. In government scenario, it is another social media platform that they would like to regulate (and) control,” he said.
However, the users in India have remained largely unaffected.
“The value for personal data and concern for privacy is relatively low in India,” PV Ilavarasan, a professor of information systems at Delhi’s Indian Institute of Technology, told EFE.
She said the availability of content in visual form and Indian languages was one of the main factors behind the app’s popularity even in small Indian towns and villages.
“The number of smartphone users is growing in India and TikTok is a visual media. These two things combine very well because a lot of people wouldn’t be reading or typing (…) would prefer to use a more convenient visual media,” said Aasim Khan, another professor at the department of social sciences in IIT Delhi.
In July last year, TikTok said it would be investing over $1 billion in India over the next three years, focusing on developing infrastructure and establishing local partnerships.
“We are grateful for the immense support given to us by India’s growing digital community. India is one of our strongest markets,” it said.
According to Sensor Tower, TikTok was the second most downloaded non-gaming app worldwide in 2019, only behind WhatsApp, with more than 738 million installs, a 30 percent increase year-on-year.
Its parent firm ByteDance, which runs a similar but separate app, Douyin, in China, was one of the world’s most valuable startups, valued around $78 billion in November 2018.