India banned 59 apps from China including the very popular short-video program TikTok, owned by ByteDance Ltd., citing threats to its sovereignty, security and public order, as relations between the two nations worsened.
Among the blocked apps are those of prominent Chinese technology giants including Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s UC Web, internet search firm Baidu Inc.’s Baidu Map and Baidu Translate, and gaming company Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s WeChat and Clash of Kings. The move comes days after escalating border tensions with China in the Himalayas left 20 Indian soldiers dead.
The unauthorized transmission and storage of Indian users’ data in overseas servers and “its mining and profiling by elements hostile to national security and defense of India,” is a matter of deep and immediate concern requiring the emergency measures, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said in a statement on Monday.
The move is the latest by India as it tries to reduce dependence on Chinese products. As the border standoff, that’s been brewing for nearly two months worsened, customs officials began halting clearances of industrial consignments coming in from China at major Indian ports and airports.
Still, it’s unclear how the ban will be implemented as most of these apps already reside on users’ phones. The government might need to block the app servers and prevent new users from downloading them. The ban will affect one in three smartphone users in India, Tarun Pathak, associate director with Counterpoint Technology, said in an interview.
Meanwhile, the government’s decision to bar the apps began garnering support on social media.
“It’s time to take some hard decisions to get out of China’s cyber clutches,” Nirmal Jain, chairman at financial services conglomerate IIFL Group tweeted.
While banning other China-made products and hardware is challenging in Asia’s third-largest economy, the blockade of wide swath of Chinese apps ranging from browsers, gaming, news content, music streaming and online retail is particularly significant.
India, with its half-billion internet users, is an emerging arena for global technology companies from the U.S. to China. As hundreds of millions of first-time users come online in India, they do so on Chinese smartphones and these myriad Chinese apps are their doorway to the internet.
For ByteDance, which counts India as its biggest market with over 200 million TikTok users, the move is a particular blow. ByteDance faced a brief ban in India last year, and is being scrutinized in Europe. It also faces mounting questions from U.S. policy makers over questions on whether it jeopardizes national security. ByteDance did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
“Some of these Chinese apps are not just for commerce but have deeply entrenched into the social fabric of our lives,” said Anil Kumar, chief executive officer of technology researcher, RedSeer Consulting. “They know what you do, what you say, where you go. In the current context, they can be viewed as a threat to our national security.”