This article has been authored by Ridhima Sinha, a second-year student at New Law College, Bharti Vidhyapeeth.
The Government of India banned 59 chinese apps in India on 29th June 2020. TikTok, ShareIT, UC browser and shopping apps like Shein and Clubfactory are among the most prominent apps that have been blocked and banned. The Government decided to ban these 59 Chinese apps for concerns over security and national integrity. The move to ban these Chinese apps precedes the faceoff at Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh. The Government had issued an advisory on April 16 in this regard because of security concerns over zoom meetings. But the move was raced after June 15’s clash between Indian and Chinese troops.
The two countries have fought only one war, that too in 1962. The recent incident has increased the tensions between the two countries and is the first deadly clash on the border area in at least 45 years. The Line of Actual Control (LAC) is poorly defined. The presence of rivers and snow-caps means the line can shift and thus the soldiers representing the two countries come face to face at many points. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs accused China of breaking an agreement to respect the LAC in the Galwan Valley. This incident was likely to trigger anti-China sentiments in India and hence has resulted into a boycott Chinese apps and products in India.
Reasons for the Ban: An Attempt to Identify
On 29th June, India banned Chinese apps mentioning the threat to national security and sovereignty. As these apps were available on Android and iOS platforms, they have been misused for stealing and transmitting user’s data in an unlawful manner to servers which have locations outside India. India is not the only country to act in counter to Chinese apps quoting privacy and cyber security issues. Taiwan has also banned some Chinese apps and so has Germany including zoom.
It was said by the US national security advisor Robert O'Brian that all Chinese apps function as arms of the Communist Party of China (CPC) to supplement its ideological and geopolitical agendas. To prevent the threats the Government of India had decided to block these 59 apps because as per the information available they are engaged in activities which are prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India. This move to ban Chinese apps will protect the interests of crores of Indian internet users. This move was very important to ensure safety and sovereignty of Indian cyberspace. The Government had considered all features before taking the decision. These apps have been there in the Appstore and Playstore for a long time and there were some privacy and security issues with them including risks of data going out of the country and hence their ban was necessary. Hence, these apps were not only banned from the Google Play Store and Apple App Store but also got blocked on almost every network here in India.
Understanding the Legality of the Issue
The ban on Chinese apps comes as the stiffness between India and China continue after a violent face-off between the armies of both countries. It was said that the apps were engaged in activities like sharing the data with Chinese agencies, including the People's Liberation Army. The main reason stated for the ban by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology is the misuse of these mobile apps available on Android and iOS platforms for theft and secretly transmitting user’s data in an unlawful manner to servers which have locations outside India.
The ban was imposed under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act. To protect the privacy of the consumers in India along with data breach and data privacy of Indian consumers by these Chinese apps, they have been banned by the Indian government. The Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-IN) has also received many representations from citizens regarding security of data and breach of privacy impacting upon public order issues as these apps were being misused for stealing secretly and transmitting user’s data and helped in mining and profiling elements hostile to national security and defence of India, which ultimately invades upon the sovereignty and integrity of India and hence is a matter of very deep and immediate concern which requires emergency measures.
Feasibility of Economic Boycott of China
Laying a ban on Chinese apps was though very necessary as India being the second most populated country contributed to Chinese economy in large scales, while Indian apps have also gained from the ban. Chinese items were used as factors of production in the production of various final goods as they were available at low prices which made production of final goods cheaper. Boycotting Chinese products would mean an increase in prices of the products. Also, many people in India relied upon Chinese products for daily use as these products were cheap and affordable. Hence, there will be an issue in manufacturing products which are economically feasible to the Indian consumers and thus the consumers will have to pay a little more but with that other Indian suppliers would get the benefit as the Indian suppliers can earn better because boycotting Chinese products will mean removing some competition which was there in the markets before.
Analysing the Aftermath of the Ban
After the Government initially banned these 59 Chinese apps, many of their replicas had risen to the top of the Google Play rankings. Such as, Likee Lite, a toned version of the banned app Likee had appeared. The Union Government banned 47 Chinese apps that were functioning as replicas of the 59 banned apps on grounds of national security and privacy concerns. These banned models include Tiktok Lite, Helo Lite, SHAREit Lite, BIGO LIVE Lite and VFY Lite.
After a security review by the Ministry of Telecom the decision to ban these 47 Chinese apps was taken as these apps had names, functionalities as well as operational ethics similar to these 59 banned Chinese apps. After the ban of these apps, the Government also drew up a list of 275 Chinese apps and will check if there is any violation in terms of national security and user privacy. Major apps, including PubG, was said to be on the list of the 275 apps which may be subsequently banned by the Government in case of legal and privacy concerns. The Government was also closely looking at the apps which have investments from China. The Union Ministry said that these apps were engaged in activities that are ‘prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order’. Subsequent to this, the Ministry sent a list of 79 questions to these banned apps and gave them three-weeks' time to respond, failing which will lead to their permanent ban.
India's Government claimed that these apps are using data illegally, and secretly collecting information from people's phones when they download these apps. Letting the citizens use these apps is a threat to India's national security. TikTok had its maximum users in India then from China and the US. From the report by Sensor Tower, TikTok’s heave in popularity was due to the coronavirus pandemic as people found TikTok to be a great way to enjoy their quarantine and be entertained through this app.
This move will impact Chinese apps as it puts massive economic pressure on Chinese economy because these apps were heavily reliant on Indian markets. These apps were a threat to national security as they were leaking information outside the country. Calls to ban Chinese products and applications had also increased due to the June 15 clashes.