7.7.2020 | With India’s TikTok Ban, the World’s Digital Walls Grow Higher
Tensions between India and China have run hot ever since a border clash in the Himalayas this month left 20 Indian soldiers dead. The government in New Delhi announced a ban on 59 Chinese apps late Monday, saying they were secretly transmitting users’ data to servers outside India.
India’s decision strikes at a number of China’s leading technology companies, including Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu. But perhaps none will be more affected than TikTok and its Beijing-based parent, ByteDance, which has built a huge audience in India as part of an aggressive and well-funded expansion around the world. TikTok has been installed more than 610 million times in India, according to estimates by the data firm Sensor Tower. In the United States, the app has been installed 165 million times.
China itself began putting up walls within the global internet years ago. By blocking Silicon Valley giants like Google and Facebook, Beijing created a controlled environment in which homegrown upstarts could flourish, and where the Communist Party could keep a tight grip on online conversation.
Now, though, Chinese tech businesses are trying to make it big overseas at a time when distrust of the Communist Party is growing in Washington and other Western capitals. The tensions have ensnared ByteDance as well as companies in computer chips, artificial intelligence and more. Huawei, the Chinese maker of smartphones and telecom equipment, has been largely cut off from American technology suppliers and is fighting to defend its business from accusations that it is a Trojan Horse for Beijing’s cyberspies.
Governments worldwide are also becoming more interested in reclaiming control over digital speech and commerce, adding to the internet’s increasingly Balkanized landscape. The European Union has taken a tough line on overseeing American giants such as Apple and Google, forcing them to adapt to local rules.