Chinese social media apps such as TikTok, which have become huge in India, now face a clampdown by regulators concerned by what they see as “unlawful content”.

Until now, India’s regulators have tended to focus on US giants, like Facebook and Amazon, as they enter the country’s market, fearful they will stifle opportunities for domestic start-ups.

But the phenomenal rise of Chinese social media apps in India has caught regulators’ attention, the Financial Times reported, as fears over fake news and extreme content grow during an election year.

Nor is India the only place Chinese social media apps have caused concern. Indonesia ordered an outright ban on the popular app TikTok last year, citing “pornography, inappropriate content and blasphemy” as the reasons.

Last year, Chinese apps, including TikTok, Like and Helo, which feature short-form videos, dominated India’s Google Play store – five out of the top 10 apps downloaded were Chinese-owned. That figure was just two the previous year.

And it’s estimated that 39% of TikTok’s more than 130 million users around the world are in India, making the country the app’s biggest foreign market; Like, the third-most downloaded app in India, has 64% of its users in the country.

India’s Ministry of Electronics and IT now wants to introduce rules for “intermediary apps” that are reliant on users to create content. Any intermediaries with more than five million users would have to set up a local office with a senior executive in the country who would be held accountable for any legal issues.

The proposed law also calls for automated tools to identify and remove or disable public access to “unlawful information or content”.

“The spread of fake news, this is happening on these platforms and it is a matter of concern and I will be looking into it,” Rakesh Maheshwari, an official at the IT Ministry in charge of cyber law and security told

“Also, if there is any security malware or snooping, then definitely that is an issue of concern to us and we will be taking action.”

The planned laws are similar to those in China, where short video apps are required to review all content going online and are held responsible for any deemed “harmful”.

The clampdown comes as the fast-growing popularity of TikTok in particular is increasingly attracting interest from media buyers, with Digiday reporting that the app – known as Douyin in China – showed a five-second ad for a food delivery firm in January.

Sourced from Financial Times, Digiday; additional content by WARC staff