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India bans 47 Chinese app clones; 275 more at risk

Image credit: REUTERS/Steve Marcus

The Indian government has this week banned a further 47 apps with Chinese origins and has published a list of 275 further apps it is considering banning.

In June, the Indian government banned 59 Chinese apps – including popular short-form video app TikTok and messaging app WeChat – citing a need to assert its “data sovereignty”. The government accused TikTok of “stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorised manner to servers outside India”.

The ban came shortly after a clash in the disputed territory of Ladakh in the Himalayas, which left 20 Indian soldiers dead.

After the ByteDance-owned TikTok was banned in its largest market – India having accounted for approximately 30 per cent of TikTok’s user base – many former users flocked to homegrown alternatives. According to Sensor Tower, first-time install rates for the three next most-popular video-sharing apps - Roposo, Zili and Dubsmash - increased by 155 per cent in India.

Now, the Indian government has banished several TikTok clones in a second round of bans targeting 47 Chinese apps. According to India Today, the latest batch of banned apps were primarily clones or variants of previously banned apps.

Punit Agarwal, head of IT and social media at BJP Delhi, wrote on Twitter: “Govt of India bans 47 more Chinese apps which were variants and cloned copies of the 59 apps that were banned in June. These banned clones include TikTok Lite, Helo Lite, SHAREit LITE, BIGO LIVE Lite and VFY Lite. Over 250 more apps under radar including PUBG.”

The government has since published a list of 275 further apps that it is considering banning, mostly apps with Chinese origins. The list includes the mobile version of Tencent’s popular battle royale game 'Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds' (aka PUBG); ByteDance-owned apps Resso and ULike, and Alibaba’s e-commerce app Aliexpress.

The Economic Times reported that the Indian government is looking to formalise a procedure for future bans, with a senior official commenting: “A set of rules or defined procedures may take time, but is the correct process to go about it in the future.”

India is among several countries taking action against apps with Chinese origins. Most notably, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo commented this month that the US is “certainly” considering a ban on TikTok and some other Chinese apps on account of privacy and national security concerns. In addition to national security concerns, campaigners have alleged that TikTok has continued to violate US child privacy laws even after promising to comply with these laws in an FTC settlement last year.

While a US TikTok ban remains uncertain, several individual organisations (both public and private) have advised employees to avoid the app. This week, it emerged that staffers working on Democrat candidate Joe Biden’s presidential campaign have been ordered to remove the app from both personal and work phones due to security concerns.

TikTok is under investigation in the UK by the Information Commissioner’s Office over its handling of user data. The Information Commissioner has suggested that the company may be violating GDPR laws.

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