NEW DELHI: A day before the third round of talks between Indian and Chinese military commanders to resolve the border stand-off, the government on Monday “blocked” as many as 59 Chinese Apps, including popular ones such as TikTok, UC Browser, WeChat, Shareit and CamScanner, for “engaging in activities which are prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order”.
The move against the “malicious Apps”, announced by the information technology ministry, came after several complaints of stealing of user data, which was allegedly being surreptitiously transmitted to servers located outside India, the government said, without naming China.
Separately, the Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre in the home ministry also recommended that the Apps should be blocked.
“This move will safeguard the interests of crores of Indian mobile and internet users. This decision is a targeted move to ensure safety and sovereignty of Indian cyberspace,” the government said. Sources added that the decision will pinch as it will affect millions of dollars of revenue.
The decision to block the Apps was not a complete surprise as there had been widespread speculation that there can be regulatory action against Chinese Apps, with several of them accused of transferring user data to servers in China. “Modi government has shown its resolve and dexterity to engage China on multiple fronts and hit China where it hurts the most. This is India’s first salvo to China after the border clashes, showing that India has a diverse range of retaliatory options,” an official source said. The assessment is that this will significantly erode the valuation of several Chinese companies.
Sources say the Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre found that data was flowing to China even though some of the entities whose Apps have been blocked were notionally located in the US or other countries such as Singapore. In the case of TikTok and some of the other Apps, investigations revealed that the camera, microphone and full network access were configured in such a way that any data use or espionage could not be verified by the Indian authorities.
“With access to people’s cameras and PCs, these Apps heightened the risk of espionage as they could access other devices and servers that may be linked. Already there were concerns about misuse of TikTok for spreading hate or sexual content, including child porn, but what really led to the decision to block was suspicion on espionage,” a source said.
The fresh action opens an all-new chapter in the growing tensions between India and China over the Ladakh border, which is gradually spilling over into the world of business, e-commerce and now mobile Apps.
“… there have been raging concerns on aspects relating to data security and safeguarding the privacy of 130 crore Indians. It has been noted recently that such concerns also pose a threat to sovereignty and security of our country,” the IT ministry said.
The government said it has received representations from various citizens regarding the security of their data and risk to privacy relating to operation of certain Apps. “The Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-IN) has also received many representations from citizens regarding security of data and breach of privacy… Likewise, there have been similar bipartisan concerns, flagged by various public representatives, both outside and inside the Parliament of India.”