Ban on Chinese Apps in India, Impact, Reason Of Ban
- India vs China
Whenever we talk about the foreign policy of India, the relations of India with China and Pakistan take the first place in our mind. We hear news from time to time about the MoUs and deals regarding the trade with these nations. But besides that, the Indo-China relations are always been in the headlines due to the territorial disputes.
- The Ban
On 29th June 2020, India banned 59 Chinese Applications including the famous TikTok app citing threat to national security & the privacy of Indian citizens under section 69a of IT Act, 2020. The government issued an explanation that these apps are illegally exporting data to locations outside India. It didn’t mention the relation of apps with China, but these apps are mostly of Chinese origin or have a major part of investments from Chinese companies.
The Centre through an interim order, blocked access to 59 Chinese phone applications from India. Generally, these restrictions are introduced through a ‘geo-block’, i.e. a technological measure which restricts access to content based on the user’s IP address. However, the exact nature and scope of the restriction is not entirely clear and is being configured at this juncture. At present, some of these apps cannot be accessed in India even with the help of a virtual private network or with the help of a technologically advanced firewall.
- How will the ban be enforced?
The notification is expected to be followed by instructions to Internet service providers to block these apps. Users are likely to soon see a message saying access to the apps has been restricted on the request of the government. However, while this will impact apps like TikTok and UC News that need a live feed to serve any purpose, users might still be able to continue using apps that don’t need an active Internet connection to be used. But further downloads of these apps, like CamScanner, are likely to be blocked on Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store.
Ban on Chinese Apps in India
Chinese Apps: Why Indian Government decided to ban?
On June 29, Indian Government decided to ban 59 apps. “The Ministry of Information Technology 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 government said in a statement. “The compilation of these data, its mining and profiling by elements hostile to national security and defence of India, which ultimately impinges upon the sovereignty and integrity of India, is a matter of very deep and immediate concern, which requires emergency measures,” it said. “On the basis of these and upon receiving of recent credible inputs that such Apps pose threat to sovereignty and integrity of India, the Government…has decided to disallow the usage of certain Apps, used in both mobile and non-mobile Internet enabled devices,” it said. Government spokesperson said that Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store have been directed to remove the apps.
India may be the first country to ban Chinese apps but it is not the first one to raise concerns about the privacy and security. The US national security advisor Robert O’Brien said all Chinese companies function as arms of the Communist Party of China (CPC) to further its ideological and geopolitical agendas. The CPC, in O’Brien’s words, “is collecting your most intimate data — your words, actions, purchases, whereabouts, health records, social media posts, texts and mapping your network of friends, family and acquaintances it is not telecom hardware or software profits the CPC [is] after, it is your data. They use ‘backdoors’ built into the products to obtain that data. This is micro targeting.”
IMPACT OF THE BAN
- Popularity of the apps in India
India is TikTok’s biggest foreign market, with an estimated 120 million active users. TikTok allows users to publish and share short videos. In the years since it has launched in India, the app has become a platform for Indians of all ages and classes. The app has turned many ordinary Indians into social media stars. “The thousands of TikTok influencers who were making a living off the platform and the many Indian traders and businessmen who need to connect to people in China and do that over WeChat have been negatively impacted.”
- Response from the apps
TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, told the BBC, it is “committed to working with the [Indian] government to demonstrate their dedication to user security and their commitment to the country overall. Nikhil Gandhi, TikTok’s India head, said on Twitter that the company had been invited to meet “concerned government stakeholders for an opportunity to respond and submit clarifications.” Other app makers are yet to respond to the ban. Experts say that most of these firms will try to lobby policy makers but they are not likely to be allowed as long as tensions continue at the border and anti-China sentiments remain high in the country.
- Impact on China
China is India’s largest trade partner after the US and our dependence on China extends well beyond the tech space. The app ban will certainly have an impact on the holding companies. For example, when it comes to TikTok, 30% of total installations come from India and this naturally harms its parent company ByteDance. The impact on China’s economy overall is difficult to predict at this stage, but will of course be negative.
- Boycott China
A boycott campaign was given a visible boost when prominent educator and innovator Sonam Wangchuk took to social media to urge Indians that it was their responsibility as citizens to “use their wallet power” and leave a negative impact on Chinese imports. The ban will add fuel to the Boycott China campaign, which is intensifying due to the coronavirus pandemic and also because of China’s aggression at Galwan valley.
The Context: A Belligerent China
China, under Xi Jinping, has turned increasingly belligerent over the last few months. Not just India, it is fighting other neighbors like Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan, Indonesia and Australia in territories it claims belong to it. Analysts say this is Chinese Governments way to distract the focus of both its citizens and the world, given that China is the origin of the devastating coronavirus.
In a bloody skirmish, 20 Indian Army personnel were killed on June 15. Since then India is seeing heightened tensions on China border in Ladakh area. It has also noticed some Chinese activity in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Not only this, the Nepalese government, usually an ally, has also lately acted hostile to India, with China tacitly egging the Himalayan kingdom on.
Chinese Apps losing big Indian Market
Chinese Apps like TikTok and Shareit have been topping Google’s Android ecosystem, which accounts for 90-95% of smartphones in India. For example, Indians clocked 5.5 billion hours on TikTok in 2019, an increase of over five times from the 900 million hours spent in 2018. While Facebook is ahead in India, with total hours spent on the platform at around 25.5 billion hours, TikTok has been catching up fast by aggressively capturing new users. The TikTok app was downloaded 323 million times across Apple’s App Store and Android devices in India in 2019 — over twice the 156 million times Facebook was, according to Sensor Tower data reported by Times of India in January.
Around 30% of Tik Tok’s user-base, according to Reuters Breakingviews which, in turn, cites SensorTower data, comes from India; cutting off this base will hit the valuation of its parent ByteDance. ByteDance is estimated to be worth around $110 billion and also owns Helo whose users are all from India. Similarly, UC Browser has a 12-13% market share of the browser market in India, making it the second-largest way to access the internet after Google’s Chrome.
- A break to China
This step will counter China’s efforts to become a tech giant. The banned apps have a large user base in India. This move can also urge other nations to look into the matter of data security and can in turn have a deep impact on China. Also, this would give a support to the China plus one policy.
- Reducing dependency on China
This step will also reduce India’s digital dependency. And Indian startups and the established companies will be greatly benefitted in gaining user base. This will bring about the downloads of many more Indian apps and would promote our Prime Minister’s effort of going vocal for local. People have already started using Indian alternatives for these apps and are quite happy with the performance.
- Localization of Data
Data localization in the Indian context simply means that companies collecting critical data about consumers must store and process such data within the Indian borders. Prior to the (RBI)’s announcement of a deadline in September last year, most data from India was not stored within the country. It was usually stored on a cloud database outside India. The call to localize sensitive data by the RBI convinced many companies like Paytm, WhatsApp and Google to change their data storage locations to India by 15th October, 2019. This move may bring more investment to the data centers in India.
- Need for stricter Laws
India is yet to pass a robust data privacy law and the latest version of the draft gives wide powers to government intelligence agencies – much like the Chinese legal framework. We can conceptualize a holistic digital strategy that closely evaluates all foreign influence in our core information infrastructure rather than continuously reacting to external events. Global power projection begins at home; we need to get our own policies right first. New Delhi must ensure that the victims of India’s geo-economic enthusiasm are not Indian citizens and consumers.
Thus, the ban on Chinese apps have brought into light many issues with regard to data privacy and security. With this, it makes a strong point given by India to the world about taking bold steps to secure the country’s sensitive data. The timing of the ban makes it prudent to analyse this move in the geopolitical context of the clash between the Indian and Chinese military in Galwan Valley. This ban will act as a caution for all the tech companies to follow the rules and to store the data locally. And this is also a great opportunity for the Indian companies to launch and upgrade their apps as alternatives to the banned apps. Being responsible citizens of the country, we should all pledge to not use these apps and support the decision of our govt to make India a stronger country, both economically and politically too!
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