More than seven months after India issued a countrywide ban on TikTok, the app is significantly reducing its staffing in the country. On Tuesday, Nikkei Asia reported that TikTok was “essentially withdrawing” from India, citing sources familiar with the company.
Reached for comment, a TikTok spokesperson confirmed that it was reducing its workforce in India but disputed the details of Nikkei’s report.
In a statement, a TikTok spokesperson told The Verge: “Given the lack of feedback from the government about how to resolve this issue in the subsequent seven months, it is with deep sadness that we have decided to reduce our workforce in India… [We] hope to get the chance to relaunch TikTok in India to support the hundreds of millions of users, artists, story-tellers, educators and performers there.”
It’s unclear how many employees TikTok will retain. Nikkei reported that “most” local employees were set to be laid off. Pressed by The Verge, the company did not clarify how many India-based employees will remain.
India was previously a large market for TikTok, which is owned by the Beijing-based firm ByteDance: 30 percent of TikTok’s downloads came from India as of April 2020. As of June, the app had about 167 million users in the country.
“It is with deep sadness that we have decided to reduce our workforce in India”
TikTok has been banned in India since June 29th. In its statement, the country’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology stated that the apps were “engaged in activities which is prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order.”
ByteDance, at the time, did not indicate plans to pull out. Following the announcement, the head of TikTok India issued a statement claiming that the company had not shared Indian users’ information with the Chinese government and that its practices were in compliance with India’s data privacy and security requirements. “We have been invited to meet with concerned government stakeholders for an opportunity to respond and submit clarifications,” the statement read. “We place the highest importance on user privacy and integrity.”
That wasn’t TikTok’s first quarrel with the Indian government. Indian lawmakers, including the information technology minister of Tamil Nadu, called for the app to be banned in early 2019, citing concerns about the behavior of teens and young adults on the service. Apple and Google pulled the app from their respective stores in India in mid-April, following a state court request.
That ban was lifted just over a week later, and didn’t impact folks who were already using TikTok; it merely prevented new downloads. Even so, TikTok claimed that it suffered up to $500,000 in losses each day the ban was in effect.
“We are committed to continuously enhancing our safety features as a testament to our ongoing commitment to our users in India,” ByteDance said, following the lift of the ban.
Other countries have long-running security concerns with TikTok as well. The Trump administration attempted to block transactions between ByteDance and US companies last year but was blocked from doing so by the courts. Several US government agencies have banned the use of the app on government-issued devices.