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India bans TikTok and 58 other Chinese apps over data privacy concerns

India has ordered a ban on a total of 59 Chinese apps including viral short-form video platform, TikTok, and social network, WeChat. The country’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology claims these apps were “engaged in activities which are prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defense of India, security of state and public order.”

The ministry, in a press release, further adds that these apps pose a threat to Indians’ data security and privacy. While it didn’t share the basis of these accusations, it said the action was taken based on several reports that suggested these platforms were “surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorized manner to servers which have locations outside India.”

Online multiplayer strategy game, Clash of Kings, and document scanning app, CamScanner are also part of the ban. The complete list can be found here.

The Indian government didn’t say how it plans to enforce this ban. However, hours after it was announced, TikTok’s apps were pulled from the Google Play Store and iOS App Store in India, the video platform’s biggest market.

Earlier this year in April, as per mobile app analytics firm, Sensor Tower, TikTok surpassed 2 billion lifetime downloads, more than a quarter of which (611 million) originated from India. The United States, in comparison, stood in third place and accounted for 8.2% of these downloads.

In a statement, Nikhil Gandhi, head of TikTok India’s operations said that the company “hasn’t shared any information of its users in India with any foreign government, including the Chinese government.” Gandhi added that TikTok has been offered an opportunity to request and submit clarifications.

It’s worth noting that this is not the first time India has blocked TikTok. Last year in April, the video app was removed from the app stores after it was discovered hosting child pornography content. The ban was lifted a week later, however, TikTok has largely been unable to escape scrutiny in the country since then.

None of these other banned apps have been taken down or issued a comment yet. We’ve reached out to some of these developers and we’ll update the story when we hear back.

India’s takedown of these Chinese apps comes days after its deadly border clash with China that left at least 20 Indian soldiers dead. The incident kicked off a nationwide anti-China campaign with citizens boycotting Chinese services and products. Earlier this month, Google pulled an app from the Play Store that allowed Android users to easily spot and delete apps developed by Chinese firms.

Experts believe India’s move against Chinese apps is a retaliatory, political stunt at best. The government has so far refused to share a legal order behind the ban and hasn’t put it into effect either. The law that underpins the action demands “a defined process of notice, hearing and a reasoned order” and bans are adopted only as the last resort, said Internet Freedom Foundation, a technology policy watchdog in a series of tweets.

More importantly, India’s order could potentially have further, global ripple effects especially in the United States which has already banned TikTok from several government agencies such as the Navy and the Army citing similar security concerns. In February last year, TikTok was also fined $5.7 million for violating COPPA, a children’s privacy law. In November, the U.S. government also launched a national security investigation into TikTok. It remains to be seen whether India offers more steam to the United States’ TikTok concerns and eventually lead to a ban.

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Shubham Agarwal
Shubham Agarwal is a freelance technology journalist from Ahmedabad, India. His work has previously appeared in Firstpost…
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