India’s ban on 59 Chinese apps, including the popular TikTok and WeChat platforms, has left millions of users surprised and disappointed.
The Delhi government said the applications were “detrimental to India’s sovereignty and integrity, India’s defense, state security and law and order.”
TikTok denied sharing data with the Chinese government. Beijing said it was “very concerned” about the ban.
Experts describe the ban as a political movement amid mounting bilateral tensions.
Sentiment against China has been high in India since clashes earlier this month on the disputed border between the two nuclear-armed neighbors left 20 Indian soldiers dead.
China did not elaborate on whether there were Chinese victims.
The fighting occurred in the Himalayan region of Ladakh, where both countries have increased deployment near the disputed border.
Calls to boycott Chinese products soon emerged, and the government issued directives to cancel or limit Chinese contracts with public sector companies.
But the app ban took many by surprise. The list includes Weibo microblogging platform, Clash of Kings strategy game, Alibaba’s UC browser, and Club Factory and Shein e-commerce apps.
App makers have said they are in talks with the Indian government, while Beijing has asked India to reconsider its decision.
“We want to emphasize that the Chinese government always asks Chinese companies to comply with international and local laws and regulations. The Indian government has a responsibility to defend the legal rights of international investors, including the Chinese,” the news agency quotes. ANI, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian as saying
What caused the ban?
India’s Ministry of Information Technology said the ban was the result of “many complaints from various sources” about applications that “stole and surreptitiously transmitted user data in an unauthorized manner.”
Many of the Chinese apps have been linked to data privacy disputes and have been accused of sharing confidential information with the Chinese government. US senators have even called for an investigation into TikTok, which fiercely rejects such claims.
The Indian government said in its statement that “the compilation of these data, their extraction and profiling by elements hostile to national security and the defense of India, which ultimately affects the sovereignty and integrity of India, is a very deep and immediate concern that requires emergency measures. “
This is not the first time that Chinese apps have been banned in India. In 2017, Alibaba’s UC browser was analyzed for allegedly leaking mobile data from Indian users. And that year, India’s defense ministry asked all armed personnel and officers to uninstall 42 Chinese applications that it classified as “spyware,” according to media reports.
However, some believe the timing of the ban, amid mounting tensions, is not a coincidence, but a response to events on the border.
“This is a purely political measure,” Nikhil Pahwa, editor of MediaNama, a media watchdog, told the BBC.
“I don’t think it affects the applications, maybe the number of users [will drop] but it will only have a minor impact on [their] income, “said Mr. Pahwa.
So what is the impact of the ban?
The ban is already affecting millions of users across India, who cannot use the blacklisted apps.
“As China has shown, governments can block apps, not just remove them from app stores, which has already happened in India, so they cannot install them again or upgrade an existing installation,” says the technology policy expert. Prasanto K Roy.
He adds that while there are ways to bypass the ban, it will “effectively kill” popular apps.
“If more than 95% of the 100 million users go out, that kills the ‘network effect’ and most of the content, and therefore an application like TikTok is no longer attractive.”
India is the largest foreign market for TikTok, with an estimated 120 million active users. TikTok allows users to post and share short videos.
In the years since its launch in India, the app has become a platform for Indians of all ages and classes, from police officers to housewives, who dance, sing and perform for their followers. The app has turned many ordinary Indians into social media stars.
And Roy says that the ban will harm all Indians who were making money and business connections through these apps.
“The thousands of TikTok influencers who made their living from the platform and the many Indian merchants and entrepreneurs who need to connect with people in China and do it through WeChat, this cuts them off.”
He agrees that there are reasons to be concerned about how apps treat user data, but says the answer should be in the form of a privacy law, which India does not have.
“It is a gentle blow to the Chinese, a retribution for the alleged border violations and the recent violent conflict,” he adds.
What do app creators say?
TikTok parent company ByteDance told the BBC that it is “committed to working with the [Indian] government to demonstrate our dedication to user safety and our commitment to the country in general.
Nikhil Gandhi, head of TikTok in India, said on Twitter that the company had been invited to meet with “interested government stakeholders for an opportunity to respond and present clarifications.”
Other app makers have yet to respond to the ban. Experts say most of these companies will try to put pressure on policy makers, but they are unlikely to be allowed as long as tensions continue at the border and anti-China sentiment remains high in the country.