India Bans 59 Chinese Apps, Including TikTok And Shareit, Citing National Security Fears
A passenger uses a smartphone while riding on a train in Mumbai. Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg

India Bans 59 Chinese Apps, Including TikTok And Shareit, Citing National Security Fears

India banned 59 apps linked to China, including TikTok, citing national security amid a border standoff.

The government invoked power under section 69A of the Information Technology Act (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking of Access of Information by Public) Rules 2009 to block the apps, the Ministry of Information Technology said in a press statement on Monday evening. “In view of information available, they’re engaged in activities which are prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order.”

The blocked apps include TikTok, Share It, Mi Community, UC browser, Club Factory. For many of these, India is their biggest market by consumer reach. TikTok has its largest user base of more than 200 million in India. Shareit has more than 400 million registered users and UC browser has over 130 million users in India.

This comes as the two south Asian nations are embroiled in a border standoff that killed 20 Indian and an unknown number of Chinese soldiers earlier this month. India is already planning to impose stringent quality control measures and higher tariffs on imports from China, according to a Bloomberg report.

India, home to half a billion internet users, is the second-largest app market by volume worldwide with 19 billion downloads in 2019, according to an App Annie report. But monetisation is hard. Indians, according to the report, contributed only $120 million, about 0.3% of the total consumer spending on mobile apps.

“One in three smartphone users in India will be impacted by this ban,” Tarun Pathak, associate director with Counterpoint Technology, said. “It is to be seen how it will be enforced, either through play store or iOS store. But it is going to be very difficult as we still don’t know what happens to the pre-installed apps.”

For pre-installed apps, Pathak said the government might follow the route of banning apps through a national-level firewall like in China and Russia. "We might also see people already deleting the apps from the system."

Pathak said it's also to be seen what happens if companies say they will share the data locally.

This is not the first time that the government has banned Chinese apps. Last year, TikTok was removed on concerns with inappropriate content. At the time both Google and Apple Inc. had removed it from their app stores after a court order. So far though, none of the other apps have faced government action.

'Safeguarding Privacy'

To support the decision today, the government cited concerns on data security and safeguarding the privacy of 130 crore Indians. The ministry said it has received complaints about some mobile apps available on Android and iOS platforms allegedly stealing and surreptitiously transmitting user data in an unauthorised manner to servers outside India.

“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 the Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre, Ministry of Home Affairs has also sent an exhaustive recommendation for blocking these malicious apps. Besides, the Computer Emergency Response Team also received representations from citizens regarding security of data and breach of privacy impacting upon public order issues.

“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.”

Siddharth Vishwanath, the partner and leader of cybersecurity at PwC, said the government can enforce the ban either by asking handset makers to not install these apps or get these apps removed from app stores. "The last piece to be seen is how the government goes about enforcing the ban.”

Pranesh Prakash, affiliated fellow at the Yale Law School's Information Society Project, called the move to ban the apps for nothing more than them being Chinese "short-sighted and unconstitutional". When certain apps are used as platforms for speech, or to access speech, they are protected under the constitution, which protects the freedom of speech and expression, that also includes the freedom to access information, he said.

"While the government has the power to ban certain kinds of speech, it may only do so within the bounds of the constitution," Prakash said. "Section 69A of the Information Technology Act also places limits on what kinds of internet resources the government may restrict access to.”

Banning the apps cannot count as a reasonable restriction unless the government shows how they are undermining the integrity of India or security of the state, he said. “So far, the government hasn't done so, and it is very hard to see how the government would make the case that Indian teens using TikTok pose a threat to India's sovereignty or security of the state.”

Indian social media apps sense an opportunity. Berges Malu, director, public policy at ShareChat, an Indian competitor to TikTok, said, "This is a welcome move from the government against platforms that have had serious privacy, cyber security and national security risks. We expect the government to continue their support for the Indian startup ecosystem."

Here's the full list of blocked apps:

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.