India has banned TikTok and other Chinese mobile apps on the grounds of national security. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government blacklisted 59 China-based apps, calling them “malicious” tools that “harm India’s sovereignty as well as the privacy of our citizens.”

The banned Chinese apps were “prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order,” the Indian government said in a statement. India’s Ministry of Information Technology accused these apps of “stealing” and “surreptitiously transmitting” user data.

“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,” the ministry said.

Indian business newspaper the Economic Times reported the government’s move:

The govt banned 59 Chinese mobile applications, including top social media platforms such as TikTok, Helo and WeChat, to counter the threat posed by these applications to the country’s “sovereignty and security,” it said in a press release late on Monday. ShareIT, UC browser and shopping app Clubfactory are among the other prominent apps that have been blocked amid rising tensions between India and China following clashes at the border two weeks ago.

The government said the applications are engaged in activities “prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order.” The ban has been imposed under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act read with relevant provisions of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking of Access of Information by Public) Rules 2009, it said. The government also cited complaints about data on Indian users being transferred abroad without authorisation.

The move could come as a blow to China’s Digital Silk Route ambitions, eroding the valuation of the companies. It could also lead to more countries following India’s cue and acting against these apps, sources told ET.

A top official said the government had considered all aspects before taking the decision. “These apps have been there for a long time, and there are some privacy and security issues with them including risks of data going out of the country,” said the person.

The statement from the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) said it had received complaints from various sources, including several reports about the misuse of some mobile apps for stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorised manner to servers outside India.

The sweeping ban on mobile apps comes as a big blow to Chinese tech firms. India is widely regarded as the “largest and fastest-growing markets in the world.” The country, with a population of 1.3 billion, has more than 400 smartphone users, recent estimates show.

The ban will hit the video-sharing app TikTok the hardest. The China-based app had its most significant user base in India, estimated to be over 120 million active users. The spying allegations are not new to the app. Apple Inc. recently caught TikTok snooping on millions of iPhone users.

“A security patch from Apple has suddenly exposed just how many smartphone apps are reading users’ clipboards every time they are on screen,” UK’s Daily Telegraph reported last Wednesday.

New Delhi’s decision comes after the Chinese military killed 20 Indian soldiers in a border clash two weeks ago. China’s People’s Liberation Army also invaded the strategic Galwan Valley, situated at India’s northern tip, and occupied up to 23 square miles of Indian territory, Indian sources say. The unprovoked invasion and slaughter triggered anti-Beijing sentiments across the country, with Indian celebrities, trade unions, and government officials calling for a boycott of China-made goods.

The deadly clash with China came as a wake-up call to India, which is heavily dependent on Chinese telecom and mobile firms. Chinese phone makers control up to 80 percent of India’s smartphone market.

“The Indian Telecom Ministry ordered government telecom providers and other private companies to ban all future Chinese deals and equipment upgrades. Chinese companies will also be banned from participating in tenders for future projects, which is likely to include plans to upgrade 4G services in India,” UK newspaper The Guardian reported following the border clash.

The Indian government’s decision angered the Chinese state media.

“Ban on Chinese apps will hurt Indian startups, deter Chinese investment,” Communist Party mouthpiece The Global Times warned on Monday. “Indian government does not have sufficient capital to support the development of domestic tech startups and talent, it would be impossible to oust Chinese companies from the market,” the communist newspaper lamented, citing Chinese ‘experts.’

While securing India’s internet and telecommunication networks from Chinese spying is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, the Asian giant has other gaping vulnerabilities. New Delhi remains dependent on Russia for its defense procurement. The country has ordered a Russia-made S-400 missile system to upgrade its air defenses against nuclear-armed China. The system relies on Chinese components, senior Indian lawmaker Subramanian Swamy warned.

“Russia is today a junior partner of China,” Swami said. “Expect a deadly US Sanctions blow early next year because of the S-400 purchase from Russia which weapon has embedded China’s electronics,” he cautioned.

Indian celebrities call for boycott of Chinese-made products

[Cover image via YouTube]

 

 
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