India’s ban on more than 50 Chinese apps, including popular apps like TikTok and WeChat, left millions of users surprised and disappointed.
The government said the applications are “detrimental to India’s sovereignty and integrity, defense of India, state security and public order”.
China has asked India to defend the legal rights of international companies.
But experts say the decision – behind rising tensions between India and China – is a hasty political movement.
Anti-China sentiment has been high in India since the beginning of this month, when clashes between the two nuclear-armed neighbors left 20 Indian soldiers dead.
The fighting took place in the Ladakh region of the Himalayas, where both countries have increased their deployment close to the disputed border.
Soon, there were calls for boycotts of Chinese products, and the government issued guidelines 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, Alibaba’s UC Browser, and Club Factory and Shein e-commerce applications.
Application makers said they were talking to the Indian government, while Beijing 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 Chinese.” saying.
What led to the ban?
India’s Ministry of Information Technology said the ban was the result of “many complaints from various sources” about applications that “stolen and hijacked user data in an unauthorized manner”.
Many of the Chinese apps have been linked to data privacy controversies 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 allegations.
The Indian government said in its statement that “the compilation of this data, its mining and profiling by elements hostile to India’s national security and defense, which end up clashing with India’s sovereignty and integrity, is a very deep and immediate issue. “. concern that requires emergency measures “.
This is not the first time that Chinese apps are banned in India. In 2017, Alibaba’s UC Browser was under the scanner for allegedly leaking mobile data from Indian users. And that year, the Ministry of Defense of India asked all officials and armed officers to uninstall 42 Chinese applications classified as “spyware”, according to media reports.
Some, however, believe that the time of prohibition – amid rising tensions – is not a coincidence, but a response to tensions at the border.
“This is a purely political move,” Nikhil Pahwa, editor of MediaNama, a media watchdog, told the BBC.
“I don’t think it will affect applications – maybe the number of users [will drop], but it will have less of an impact on [their] revenue,” 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 app stores, which has already happened in India, so you can’t install them again or update an existing installation,” says the expert. technical policies Prasanto K Roy.
He adds that while there are ways to get around the ban, it will “effectively kill” popular apps.
“If more than 95% of the 100 million users leave, it kills the ‘network effect’ and most of the content and, therefore, an application like TikTok is no longer attractive.”
India is TikTok’s largest foreign market, with around 120 million users.
In the years since it launched in India, the app has become a platform for Indians of all ages and classes – from police to housewives – who dance, sing and perform for their followers. The app has turned many ordinary Indians into social media stars.
Roy says the ban will hurt all Indians who were making money and making commercial connections through these apps.
“The thousands of TikTok influencers who lived off the platform and the many Indian traders and entrepreneurs who need to connect with people in China and do it through WeChat – it stops them.”
He agrees that there are reasons for concern about how applications handle user data, but he says the answer must be in the form of a privacy law, which India does not have.
“It is a mild strike against the Chinese, a revenge for the alleged border violations and recent violent conflicts,” he adds.
What do app developers say?
TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, told the BBC that it is “committed to working with the government to demonstrate our dedication to user safety and our commitment to the country at large.
Nikhil Gandhi, head of TikTok in India, said on Twitter that the company was invited to meet with “interested government officials in question for an opportunity to respond and send clarifications”.
Other application makers have yet to respond to the ban. Experts say most of these companies will try to put pressure on policymakers, but they are unlikely to be allowed as long as tensions remain at the border and anti-China sentiment remains high in the country.