App-Ban 29-June, in between the rising tensions, the Government of India has imposed an unprecedented ban on 59 Chinese applications, including the hugely popular TikTok, UCBrowser, ShareIt, and CamScanner. These applications have over millions of Download on both the Google and Apple App Store. The banned apps are a few of the most popular apps like TikTok, taken off the Google and Apple PlayStore. Although it can be used by those who already have the app in their devices, it is now officially banned in the country. Both countries had been involved in peace talks for the past couple of days following the stand-off in the Galwan valley region. The confrontation had resulted in the loss of 20 Indian lives, and sources say that the Chinese troops have suffered almost twice the number of casualties. The discussion was already in the process even before the Galwan valley incident, but the counteractions were fast-tracked after the violent clash on June 15. The Indian Ministry of Information Technology has released a statement saying that Chinese apps have been involved in several activities that are prejudicial to India’s sovereignty and integrity. They have added that this move is to ensure a safe Indian cyberspace. The Indian IT ministry has also highlighted that there have been several concerns regarding the security and safeguarding of data and privacy in India.
The ministry has received numerous complaints and reports about the misuse of data collected from the Android and iOS apps. The reports include issues like stealing and transmitting data to various unauthorized servers that have their locations outside the Indian borders. The statement also showed grave concern regarding the mining and compilation of data by a section that is hostile to the national security and defense. It is a matter that required immediate action. The concern regarding Chinese companies mining data with their hardware and software is not a new issue. It is for the same reason that several governments have been uneasy about deploying the Chinese 5G network system. Apart from India, it has been a raging concern for the US as well. The Trump administration has recently raised its concerns about Chinese companies collecting data to coerce and influence people to act in favor of the Communist Party of China. This move is backed by the National Security Council Secretariat, who have been involved in discussions after the intelligence agencies have raised their concerns. India is in no mood for negotiation or mistake. In April 2020, the Department of Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade had made it mandatory to seek Government approval for any foreign direct investment for any neighboring country.
Chinese Retaliation India's Block-App Move
After India’s move to block about 60 Chinese apps in the country, the Xi Jinping government has blocked VPN access. China has forever been infamous about its repressive measures to online censorship. While India continues to read and report the various updates in China, Indian TV channels and newspapers cannot be accessed without a VPN (Virtual Private Network) server in China. As per sources, soon after the app ban in India, the VPN servers have been down majorly in the Communist State of China, for desktop systems as well as mobile devices.
The conflicts between the two countries have only China been on the rise since the brutal confrontation on June 15 at Galwan valley. As per recent updates, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army has restructured their positions across the river bed with several armored troop and band tents. Following which the Indian Army has deployed six T-90 missile-firing tanks in the sector. While India keeps signaling for a peaceful restoration of the India-China relations, it has also been mindful of being prepared for the worst-case scenarios. The Indian troops have occupied the domineering heights of the valley within its Line of Actual Control. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army has shown keen interest in striking a deal on the LAC dispute, and the Indian Army has shown no withdrawal from their stance or any intention of redefining the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Sources also suggest that India is fully prepared for retaliation in case the red flag goes up. Given the weather conditions and the river temperature falling sub-zero, Indian troops believe it is only a matter of time that the Chinese PLA army will no longer be able to defend themselves on the occasion of a stand-off. Speaking of tenacity and experience, the Indian Army has been safeguarding the region for more than 17 years.
The troops have been trained in extreme weather conditions and high-altitudes to protect the Siachen glacier from any incoming threat from Pakistan. The morale of the Indian Army commanders and troops have been high with the elevated alertness and the support of the Indian Air Force. It is also in news that several Chinese fighter jets have taken off from their base in the Taklamakan desert, which is about 240 km from the Line of Actual Control. This is a measure to counter any attack from the Indian Fighters.
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In 2017, a similar situation arose between the Indian and Chinese troops in Ladakh. Several soldiers from both countries were martyred after a clash. A group of Chinese soldiers was alleged to infiltrate into the Indian controlled territory near the Pangong Lake, Ladakh. The brawl broke out when an Indian Intelligence officer intercepted a Chinese patrol, which has apparently lost its way due to adverse weather conditions in the region. As a defensive measure, Indian troops were forced to delete many Chinese apps as a matter of national security.
Data Sharing and Chinese Apps
Various cybersecurity analysts had previously warned the country about malicious risks of the Chinese telecom companies of stealing and misusing collected data for their political interests. Not only in India, but Chinese telecommunication apps and companies have been under scrutiny in the United States of America as well. Even as said by the chief executive of Recorded Future, a cyber-security company in the US, the concerns regarding data mining and stealing of India is a justified and valid one. The worries about China’s data-stealing is not a new concern and has been a longstanding worry for India. India has forever viewed the data of its citizens as sovereign. It fears a stage of digital colonization, which has led to avoiding any data-sharing agreements with companies so far.
How Will The App-Ban Be Imposed?
Following the announcement, India will improvise its ways in which it handles the app-ban situation. It will inform the internet service providers to block the apps officially. Similarly, all end-users will be receiving a message telling them about restricted access to Government guidelines. In the list of banned applications, while some require an internet connection for live feed or operation, some can be used as-is without any active connection. Like, CamScanner, which is used to scan documents and images. Further downloads of these apps will be blocked on the app stores for both Android and iOS devices.
After the Indian central government has blocked TikTok as one of the many restricted Chinese apps, TikTok has comeback on Tuesday 30-June, insisting that it does not share any user information with the Chinese government or any other foreign government. Nikhil Gandhi, the TikTok India head, has released a statement saying the company has been invited to respond and submit any clarifications with the government stakeholders. He added that TikTok complies with all data security and privacy policies to the best of its knowledge under the Indian Law. If it ever receives any such request, they will not entertain the same.
How Will The App-Ban Impact The Users?
Some apps like TikTok and Beauty Plus are top-rated among users in India. With over 100 million active users, it is due to impact the market with a bang, given that China has always eyed the Indian market. Of the total Indian population, which stands more than one billion and three hundred eighty-seven million, the internet penetration rate is around 50 percent as of 2020. Many of these Chinese companies and applications have their offices in India, and this ban can significantly affect thousands of jobs in the country. While we are still unsure if the prohibition of these apps will be permanent, it is nothing short of a warning for the Chinese apps and China itself. Earlier in 2020, TikTok was banned for a short while, but it bounced back. But, given the severity of the ban and the total number of applications concerned, the intent and signal on this occasion is pretty strong. India has been both mindful and strategic in its move to bans mobile apps, given that this move shall only have a limited impact on the Indian market. China will be majorly hit with this app-block move, as it has always been interested in India’s growing market. India has also opened up a new door of opportunity for itself to be self-dependent and push the local markets as the primary go-to for users instead of the age-old Chinese dependency. Also, India’s internet costs are the lowest in the world, with a significantly large consumer base. Most of the users are young and look for new content, giving way to many Indian companies to fill the gap for the users.
List of Chinese Apps Blocked by the Indian Government
Given the tactical aspect of the move, it will put immense pressure on the home companies to level up and get the market going. It is a massive opportunity for the Indian market to become self-reliant and also dodge any national security threat coming their way.