NEW DELHI :
The Union government will give the companies that own the 59 Chinese mobile apps it has banned an opportunity to explain their case regarding compliance with privacy and security requirements.
The government had on Monday banned the apps, including ByteDance’s TikTok, Alibaba’s UC Browser, and Tencent’s WeChat, citing security concerns.
“The due process of the law requires an analysis of what the matter is on record. This is an interim order. There is a process defined in the information technology law, with regard to blocking of apps. A government committee will look into it," a senior government official said on Tuesday. “The companies will be given a fair opportunity and have been asked to explain their case," said the official.
The Union electronics and information technology ministry had on Monday said that the apps are engaged in activities that are “prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order".
The development came against the backdrop of rising tensions between India and China at the Line of Actual Control (LAC), where 20 Indian troops were killed in a violent face-off with Chinese troops in the Galwan area of Ladakh earlier this month. It came ahead of military and diplomatic talks between India and China scheduled for later this week.
There is a need to have a robust cyber peace or war policy address national security concerns, experts said. “This move underscores that the cyber world and internet are part of geopolitics and not some distant matter left to techies. We must have a robust cyber peace or war policy that addresses our national security concerns and presents well thought through rights respecting policy, in sharp contrast to an authoritarian regime like China," said Mishi Choudhary, technology lawyer and founder of Software Freedom Law Centre.
Chinese short video platform TikTok was on Tuesday invited to meet the Indian government “for an opportunity to respond and submit clarifications".
The company continues to comply with all data privacy and security requirements under Indian law and has not shared any user information of Indians with foreign governments, including that in China, said its India head, Nikhil Gandhi. However, Gandhi did not clarify when the meeting with will be held.
TikTok and Helo, which is also owned by ByteDance have disappeared from the Apple and Google Play app stores. The list also includes ByteDance’s Vigo Video, though the company was already in the process of shutting it down and had announced on 15 June that Vigo users would be transitioned to TikTok and the app would cease to exist. Vigo Video is still available on app stores, along with apps such as Alibaba Group’s UC Browser and UC News, Bigo Technologies’ Likee, and Xiaomi’s Mi Community, which are all on the list.
Together, the 59 banned apps accounted for 5% of total installs in iOS and Android smartphones in India in Q2 2020 so far, according to data from Sensor Tower. The total install counts for these apps had dropped by 21% from Q1 2020, with 330 million downloads so far in this quarter compared to 420 million in the last quarter.
A lawyer representing a number of apps on the government’s list said what evidence or “credible inputs" the government has found against the banned apps are yet to be disclosed. “Given the large investments of these companies in India, such an action without transparently laying down what has precisely triggered the ban is likely to shake confidence in fair regulation. In the past, when security deficiencies were pointed out with Zoom, the company took steps to rectify this. The current action affords no such opportunity," the lawyer said. “The same action could have been taken after following due process, which may have been the more appropriate action" he added.