India bans more Chinese apps and questions them on censorship and security

India in June outlawed 59 Chinese apps for threatening the country's "sovereignty and integrity". PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGALORE - The Indian government has banned more Chinese mobile applications this week.

An initial ban of 59 apps in June came in response to border clashes between the two countries in May that resulted in the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said after the initial app ban on June 29 that the Chinese tech companies might be "stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users' data in an unauthorised manner to servers which have locations outside India".

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian had said that China was "strongly concerned" about the Indian notice.

On Tuesday (Aug 4), the Indian government banned more Chinese apps, but did not disclose the names.

The first set of apps to be blocked included ByteDance-owned video sharing app TikTok, Alibaba-owned UC Browser, Tencent's WeChat, file sharing app SHAREit, beauty app Meitu, online shopping app Shein and two apps of mobile phone maker Xiaomi.

The newly banned apps appear to be clones or light versions of the already banned apps, like TikTok Lite, Helo Lite, SHAREit Lite and BIGO LIVE Lite.

These apps are not available for download on Google and Apple Play Stores in India anymore. Users are also unable to access Mi Browser, which comes preinstalled in Xiaomi mobile phones.

The spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in India, Counselor Ji Rong, criticised this week's ban, saying: "The Indian government has the responsibility to protect the legitimate rights and interests of international investors in India, including Chinese businesses, in accordance with market principles. Practical cooperation between China and India is mutually beneficial. Deliberate interference in such cooperation will not serve the interests of the Indian side."

Meanwhile, companies that faced bans earlier are having to respond to an Indian government investigation about their operations in India.

In mid-July, India's IT ministry sent the companies a list of 77 questions, reported Reuters and The Times of India.

A TikTok spokesman told The Straits Times that the company had submitted its response to the government and that "throughout the duration of our operations, we have demonstrated unequivocal commitment to complying with the local laws, including data privacy and security requirements".

TikTok is the most popular of the banned apps, with about 200 million users in the country. India is its largest foreign market, accounting for 30 per cent of global downloads.

Xiaomi India, Meitu, and Alibaba did not respond to The Straits Times' queries about the number or contents of the questions asked.

India's IT Ministry also did not comment.

A Reuters report based on ministry sources said some of the queries in the questionnaire were about whether the Chinese apps censored any content related to the militant attack in Pulwama district of Kashmir in February last year, in which 40 security force personnel died.

The companies have also been asked if they work on behalf of foreign governments, receive Chinese government subsidies or have lobbied celebrities and influencers in India, as well as whether they faced any investigation in the United States, European Union or elsewhere for surreptitiously harvesting user data.

The Chinese companies were given three weeks to respond.

The local tech industry is now seeing a surge in homemade apps, as Indians look for alternatives to the banned ones.

Kaagaz Scanner and Bharat Scanner, for instance, have emerged to replace the banned CamScanner, a photo scanning app. Short video apps like Mitron TV and Chingari are trying to capture the huge market TikTok created.

Comments in the review section praise the apps as "best to defeat TikTok", but suggest better animations, search buttons and features that are lighter on data usage.

Many apps on Google Play Store now feature subheads like "Made in India" or "India's own". Paper Scanner, a local app launched in mid-June, even incorporates a little Indian flag in its logo.

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