Citing concerns around the sovereignty and integrity of India, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has banned 59 Chinese apps from mobile and non-mobile use by Indians.
The move by the government comes after it directed e-commerce companies to indicate country of origin for products being sold on their platforms and earlier this year, tweaked the Foreign Direct Investment rules for investments from Chinese enterprises and individuals under the direct investment route. The latter was done to prevent the hostile takeover of Indian companies in view of the Covid-19 related economic slowdown.
Among the banned apps is Bytedance owned popular short video platform TikTok which was banned temporarily in 2019 by Madras High Court for promoting indecent content. India is TikTok’s largest market with over 120 million monthly active users in the country at the end of 2019. Other Bytedance apps including local language social platform Helo and Vigo Video have also been banned as have Bigo owned video apps Bigo and Likee.
Other notable apps on the list include e-commerce platforms ROMWE, Club Factory and SheIn, which have been previously accused of misusing the ‘gift-route’ to evade paying customs duties on the products imported from China. This led to a change in the norms in December 2019 when the Ministry of Commerce and Industry amended the Foreign Trade Policy.
Other apps in the list include Tencent owned WeChat, device maker Xiaomi owned Mi Video Call and Alibaba Group owned UC Browser and UC News.
Incidentally, Tencent and Alibaba are investors in homegrown food technology unicorns Swiggy and Zomato respectively. Shunwei Capital, founded by Xiaomi founders Lei Jun and Tuck Lye Koh is also a backer of multiple Indian startups.
“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 unauthorized manner to servers which have locations outside India,” said MeitY in the release. It further added, “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 release also quoted Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre, Ministry of Home Affairs and Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) reports stating complaints against the apps for collecting user data and risk to the privacy of users.
With the order out, it is up to Google Play Store and Apple, among other browsers to ban these apps for download.
“The action of the government looks aggressive as the Chinese companies and apps have not been given any opportunity to represent before the government on this issue. This may be challenged as an arbitrary action under Article 14 and 19 of the Constitution of India,” said Atul Pandey, partner at legal firm, Khaitan & Co.
In its order, MeitY has invoked section 69A of the Information Technology Act.