On June 29, 2020, as thunderstorms swept Mumbai and daily Covid-19 cases in India surged by almost 20,000, millions of people began experiencing a flood of network errors on their mobile devices. TikTok—and nearly 60 other Chinese apps—had been driven offline in the world’s largest democracy. A sweeping government crackdown on Chinese tech had begun, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi issuing bans on widely popular apps and services to protect the “sovereignty and integrity of India.”
What has unfolded in India in the three years since foreshadows what might await U.S. consumers and tech companies if Washington imposes its own long-discussed ban on TikTok parent ByteDance. In India, TikTok’s loss became many startups’ gain. On the same day that the government issued its ban on Chinese apps, Bengaluru-based Mohalla Tech released Moj, an unapologetic TikTok clone. A month later, in July, came another knockoff, Mumbai-based MX TakaTak, which garnered a billion daily views in 30 days while championing a catchy slogan: “Made in India, for you.” Two months later came Josh, a similar video platform that topped a billion views in 45 days.