India on Monday banned 59 apps with Chinese links, including hugely popular TikTok and UC Browser, saying they were prejudicial to sovereignty, integrity and security of the country.
The ban, which comes in the backdrop of current stand-off along the Line of Actual control in Ladakh with Chinese troops, also includes WeChat and Bigo Live.
The list of apps that have been banned also include Helo, Likee, Cam Scanner, Vigo Video, Mi Video Call – Xiaomi, Clash of Kings as well as e-commerce platforms Club Factory and Shein.
This marks the largest sweep against the Chinese technology companies.
The Information Technology Ministry in a statement said it has received many complaints from various sources, including several reports about misuse of some mobile apps available on Android and iOS platforms for "stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users'' data in an unauthorised manner to servers which have locations outside India".
"The compilation of these data, its mining and profiling by elements hostile to national security and defence of India, which ultimately impinges upon the sovereignty and integrity of India, is a matter of very deep and immediate concern which requires emergency measures," the statement said.
The IT Ministry said it has invoked its power under section 69A of the IT Act and rules, and has decided to block 59 apps in view of information available that they are "engaged in activities which are prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order".
The 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", it added.
The list included prominent names like TikTok (which has over 200 million users in India), SHAREit, WeChat, UC Browser, Helo, Likee and Cam Scanner, among others.
The Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre, Ministry of Home Affairs, has also sent an exhaustive recommendation for blocking these malicious apps, the statement said, adding that there has been a strong chorus in the public space to take strict action against apps that harm India''s sovereignty as well as the privacy of citizens.
Likewise, there have been similar bipartisan concerns, flagged by various public representatives, both outside and inside Parliament.
"On the basis of these and upon receiving recent credible inputs that such apps pose threat to sovereignty and integrity of India, the Government of India has decided to disallow the usage of certain apps, used in both mobile and non-mobile Internet enabled devices," it added.
Comments from these companies could not be immediately obtained.
"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 statement said.
Over 2015-19, Chinese investors including Alibaba, Tencent, TR Capital and Hillhouse Capital, have invested over USD 5.5 billion in Indian startups, according to Venture Intelligence that tracks private equity, venture capital, M&A transactions and valuations, in India.
,"There are genuine apprehensions in India about how China would use all the information stored in apps like TikTok, which has 300 million downloads in India and use that information to assess consumer behaviour in this country,’’ said Srikanth Kondapalli, professor of Chinese Studies at JNU and one of India’s foremost Sinologists.
Tik Tok and some other Chinese apps,which had about 100-150 million downloads or so, store a lot of advertisements and backchannel communications. They would be a great source of information as far as the Chinese are concerned and so India’s security concerns, after what happened at Ladakh, should be considered legitimate, he said.