India’s ban on over 50 Chinese apps, including popular ones like TikTok and WeChat, has left millions of users surprised and disappointed.
The government said the apps “undermine India’s sovereignty and integrity, the defense of India, state security and public order.”
China has asked India to assert the legal rights of international companies.
But experts say the decision – in the wake of growing tensions between India and China – is a hasty political move.
Anti-Chinese sentiment has been high in India since the beginning of this month, when clashes between the two nuclear-armed neighbors killed 20 Indian troops.
The fighting took place in the Himalayan region of Ladakh, where both countries increased their deployment near the controversial border.
Calls to boycott Chinese goods soon emerged and the government issued directives to cancel or limit Chinese contracts with public sector companies.
But the ban on apps took many by surprise. The list includes the Weibo microblogging platform, the Clash of Kings strategy game, the Alibaba UC browser and the Club Factory and Shein e-commerce apps.
App makers said they were in talks with the Indian government, while Beijing asked India to reconsider its decision.
“We want to emphasize that the Chinese government always asks Chinese companies to abide by international and local laws. The Indian government has a responsibility to enforce the legal rights of international investors, including Chinese investors”. The ANI news agency quotes the spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry Zhao Lijian as said.
What prompted the ban?
The Indian Ministry of Information Technology said the ban was the result of “many complaints from various sources” about apps that “stole and illegally transmitted user data in an unauthorized manner”.
Many Chinese apps have been linked to data privacy disputes and have been accused of sharing sensitive information with the Chinese government. US senators have even asked for an investigation into TikTok, which fiercely rejects these claims.
The Indian government stated in its statement that “the collection of this data, its extraction and profiling by elements hostile to India’s national security and defense, which ultimately affects India’s sovereignty and integrity, is a a very profound 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 had entered the scanner for alleged loss of Indian users’ mobile data. And that year, the Indian Ministry of Defense asked all armed personnel and officers to uninstall 42 Chinese apps classified as “spyware”, according to media reports.
Some, however, believe that the timing of the ban – amid growing tensions – is not accidental, but rather a response to tensions on the border.
“This is a purely political move,” Nikhil Pahwa, director of MediaNama, a media watchdog, told the BBC.
“I don’t think it will affect apps, perhaps the number of users [will drop] but it will only have a minor impact on [their] come in, “said Pahwa.
So what is the impact of the ban?
The ban will affect millions of users in India.
“As China has shown, governments can really block apps, not just remove them from the app stores, which has already happened in India, so you can’t install them again or update an existing installation,” says Prasanto K Roy, technology policy expert.
He adds that although there are ways around the ban, it will “kill” popular apps effectively.
“If over 95% of 100 million users leave, this kills the network effect and most of the content, and therefore an app like TikTok is no longer attractive.”
India is TikTok’s largest foreign market, with an estimated 120 million users.
In the years since its launch in India, the app has become a platform for Indians of all ages and classes – from cops to housewives – who dance, sing and perform for their followers. The app has turned many ordinary Indians into social media stars.
And Roy says the ban will harm all Indians who were making money and commercial ties through these apps.
“The thousands of TikTok influencers who made their living off the platform and the many Indian traders and businessmen who need to connect with people in China and do it on WeChat, this interrupts them.”
He agrees that there are reasons for concern 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’s a slight strike for the Chinese, a refund for the alleged border violations and the recent violent conflict,” he adds.
What do app makers say?
TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, told the BBC that it has “committed to working with the government to demonstrate our dedication to user safety and our commitment to the country in general.
Nikhil Gandhi, head of India for TikTok, said on Twitter that the company had been invited to meet “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 on the border and anti-China sentiments remain high in the country.