By Musa Sunusi Ahmad
India has drawn up a list of 275 Chinese apps that it will examine for any violation of national security and user privacy, signalling heightened scrutiny and the possibility of more Chinese internet companies being banned in the country, according to people aware of the developments.
This follows the high-profile ban of 59 Chinese apps last month, including short video app TikTok, amid simmering geopolitical tensions between the two Asian giants.
The list, reviewed by ET, includes gaming app PubG backed by China’s most valuable internet major Tencent, Zili by phonemaker Xiaomi, AliExpress by ecommerce giant Alibaba as well as apps like Resso and ULike from TikTok-owner ByteDance.
“The government may ban all, some or none from the list,” said one person cited above.
A spokesperson for the union home ministry did not respond to queries from ET on the developments. However, official sources said reviews aimed at identifying more Chinese apps and their funding is underway. “Some of these apps have been red-flagged due to security reasons while others have been listed for violation of data sharing and privacy concerns,” an official explained.
This is in addition to examining the alleged flow of data from these apps to China that poses a threat to sovereignty and integrity of India, according to officials who pointed to what they termed as China’s data-sharing norm that requires companies of Chinese-origin to share data with the home country, irrespective of where they operate.
Companies With Chinese Investments
While banning the 59 Chinese apps — following a violent faceoff between the armed forces of the two countries on June 15 — India cited threats to national security and public order. China criticised the move, saying it was “strongly concerned” about the ban.
Email queries from ET on the latest developments sent to Tencent, Kuaishou, Xiaomi, Bytedance and Alibaba remained unanswered till press time.
Chinese Internet companies have about 300 million unique users in India, indicating that nearly two-thirds of smartphone users in the country have downloaded a Chinese app, according to industry estimates.
Among the Chinese apps being scrutinised now are 14 MI apps by Xiaomi as well as lesser-known ones such Capcut and FaceU. Apps from other Chinese internet and tech majors like Meitu, LBE Tech, Perfect Corp, Sina Corp, Netease Games, Yoozoo Global are also present.
Also in the list are companies such as Helsinki-based Supercell that have investments by Chinese technology companies. Tencent bought a majority stake in the gaming company last year.
Another senior government official told ET that the government is looking to formalise a process for such bans and the concerned ministry has been asked to frame a law or circular or some form of a regulation for constant scrutiny of the apps operating in India. “A set of rules or defined procedures may take time but is the correct process to go about it in the future,” the person said.
Responding to queries from ET, an official from the ministry of electronics and information technology (MeitY) said the Indian government will follow due process before undertaking any ban. “There is a process involved, there is a committee in place for such ban orders. If there is such an order, then MeitY will act,” the person said.
Meanwhile, a government committee set up to examine the data practices of the 59 Chinese banned apps will review the companies’ responses — the deadline for which expires this week — and initiate further action, officials told ET.
The committee has representatives from the ministries of home affairs, electronics and IT, information & broadcasting and law & justice, along with officials from CERT-In.
Asia’s fifth-largest economy is now the battleground for Chinese and American internet majors that are vying to dominate one of the world’s largest and most open internet markets, with an estimated base of 450 million smartphone users.
ET reported last week that Zili and Snack Video had moved into the top10 list on Google Play, as the two Chinese apps emerge as contenders to replace the banned short video app TikTok.
Wildly popular across India’s hinterland, TikTok had snagged 200 million registered users in the country and had been downloaded 660 million times since its launch two years ago, accounting for 30% of its overall global downloads.
For PubG, India is its largest market, according to app intelligence firm Sensor Tower estimates, generating about 175 million installs to date, or 24% of the total downloads.