The Indian government’s decision to ban 59 mobile apps, including TikTok, SHAREiT, WeChat, and Club Factory, is being seen as part of the retaliation following the violent face-off between Indian and Chinese armies earlier this month in Ladakh.
The government in its order didn’t identify the banned apps as Chinese, but it said: “There has been a strong chorus in the public space to take strict action against Apps that harm India’s sovereignty as well as the privacy of our citizens.”
The Ministry of Information & Technology in a statement said it has received many complaints from various sources, including several reports about misuse of some mobile apps available on Android and iOS platforms for "stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users' data in an unauthorised manner to servers which have locations outside India".
The IT Ministry said it has invoked its power under section 69-A of the IT Act and Rules, and has decided to block 59 apps in view of information available that they are "engaged in activities which are prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order".
The ban came into effect Monday night and a formal order asking Play Stores of Google and Apple to block the applications has been issued.
A Google spokesperson said they are reviewing the government’s order.
Users, who still have the TikTok and other apps on their mobile phone, will still be able to use it, however, further downloads of the app may be blocked. Besides, there will be compatibility issues when you use the apps.
The move comes barely 10 days after the Press Information Bureau Fact Check handle on Twitter denied that the government had prohibited some applications from being made available on App Stores. The tweet was in response to a fake message which said the government has banned 15 Chinese apps. Interestingly, around a dozen of the apps listed under the fake order are now a part of the official statement released Monday.
Claim: A viral message of an order allegedly from NIC claims that @GoI_Meity has prohibited some apps from being made available on App Stores. #PIBFactCheck: The Order is #Fake. No such instruction has been given by @GoI_MeitY or NIC. pic.twitter.com/Dt7rMR7nIz— PIB Fact Check (@PIBFactCheck) June 19, 2020
Experts, however, say the decision to ban Chinese apps may impact India if the app war intensifies.
An IT expert with NASSCOM on condition of anonymity says, “The government’s order doesn’t specify any timeline for which the ban will be applicable. So you can’t really say if the businesses, employees and the users will be hit.” However, he warned, there could be serious ramifications if the app war intensifies, and a lot of businesses with Chinese investments could be impacted if the app war becomes a trade war.
A Bengaluru-based mobile application developer, who didn’t want to be named, says, “You have to accept that the Chinese apps have helped to break the monopoly of US-based apps. If you see the list of the mobile applications banned, most of them are an alternative to the American companies. Eg: UC browser is an alternative to Google Chrome, TikTok Video is an alternative to YouTube, Club Factory is an alternative to Amazon. It’s all about seeing through the lens you prefer. You don’t want an alternative and are ready to accept the American apps monopoly.”
He also says several other mobile apps have security and privacy issues and targeting a few won’t solve the problem. “I am not saying India should give up to China through mobile apps, but it shows India’s failure to encash an upcoming market. It’s about a business opportunity,” he said, adding that using such soft targets would send a wrong signal about India’s strength.
Over 2015-19, Chinese investors including Alibaba, Tencent, TR Capital and Hillhouse Capital, have invested over USD 5.5 billion in Indian start-ups, according to Venture Intelligence that tracks private equity, venture capital, M&A transactions and valuations, in India.