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Recent ban on Chinese apps in India | Its implications and understanding the reasons of banning

INTRODUCTION

Recently, the Indian government has banned 47 Chinese apps which were variants of Chinese-linked 59 apps banned earlier on 29 June 2020. Official Sources from the government reveals that the decision of banning such a huge number of Chinese apps is nothing but 'Operational Ethics'. Operational Ethics invariably refers to the transfer and transmission of data acquired by these apps, directly to the Chinese government. The Central Government of India had earlier banned 59 Chinese apps stating the rise of the 'emergent nature of threats' from those applications. The statement was based on the information that the 'now-banned' Chinese applications were allegedly engaged in activities 'prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity' of the country. This article aims to analyze the reasons as well as the impact of banning Chinese apps in India.

Changing the nature of global competition, 'data' brings both growth and the need for better provisions of its protection and regulation. If we look into the global data regime, India is the second-largest market for mobile application downloads. According to a report by The Times of India, “On an average, Indians use more than 40 apps in a month, while having a total base of close to 80 apps. On this paradigm, China and Brazil are behind India."

AN ANALYSIS OF REASONS FOR BANNING THE CHINESE APPLICATIONS

The Ministry of Information Technology entreating its power under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act (2000), read with Rule 9 of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking of Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009 has banned the use of Chinese applications in India via an official order. Section 69 A gives the government the “Power to issue directions for blocking for public access of any information through any computer resource". The government has apparently taken the action of banning Chinese apps on the basis of Rule 9 of the Blocking Rules, 2009 which empowers the Government to impose a block in case of an emergency. This provision allows the Secretary of the Department of IT to block content after recording reasons for such a decision. However, the meaning of the term 'emergency' used in Rule 9 of the Blocking Rules, 2009 is unclear. The Supreme Court, in the case of PUCL v. Union of India [i]observed that the term 'emergency' would mean “The prevailing of a sudden condition or state of affairs affecting the people at large calling for immediate action."

Several security reasons have been posed by the Indian Government resulting in the recent ban of the Chinese apps. The government notification said that the Ministry of Information technology has received several complaints and reports concerning these apps. Majority of the complaints include the offences denoted as 'Cybercrimes' under the IT Act, 2000, like 'stealing and transmitting' data of users and controlling the data in an unauthorized manner outside of India. The broad reason for such complaints and recent ban revolve around the national security and sovereignty concerns, potentially arising from data security apprehensions. A recent study published by The Economic Times reveals that Chinese apps like 'ShareIt' and 'Helo' inter alia collect excessive information such as access to the camera, microphone, precise location of the mobile, etc, which is cited as unnecessary to render the services that these apps provide. Additionally, Chinese applications lack in ensuring privacy and security safeguards.

TRACING THE REASON BEHIND THE BAN

The ban comes in the wake of the time when India and China are embroiled in a border dispute in the Galwan valley, where recently around 20 Indian soldiers, were martyred in a military clash with the Chinese soldiers. This bold move of the government in banning the applications was apparently in retaliation to the Chinese action of violence at the borders. The much-publicized move has largely been a point of debate and deliberations by critiques questioning the significance of the move. However, the Indian Government notably time and again cited that the Chinese apps were banned to ensure the safety of cyberspace and protect Indian users from cybercrimes. The decision has manifestly been taken in order to safeguard the security interests of the Indian users, after receiving numerous complaints against these apps.

Indian intelligence agencies have been trying to limit the mobile applications on the grounds that the apps were designed to extract data and park them outside the country, where at a later stage they might be accustomed to in poking into the privacy of Indian citizens.

Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) and domestic social media app Share Chat welcomed the move. This huge unprecedented step will be an extended means of strengthening the 'Boycott China' campaign of CAIT. Boycott China movement is now well and truly a national reality and 7 Crore traders of India stand in solidarity with the Union Government.

With many of the Chinese apps being accused of collecting sensitive user data and even spying, the Ministry of Information and Technology initially on 29 June 2020 banned 59 apps and later on 27 July 2020, banned further 47 apps which were clones of the previously banned apps., As per the order of the government, the first step to implement the order is to get these apps removed from the App stores; for which the ministry will have to send a legal notice to Google and Apple, directing the same. The second step would be to direct the Telecom Operators and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) within the country to prevent the traffic of knowledge on these applications as data is vital for these apps to work.

WHAT WILL BE THE IMPACT OF THIS BAN?

The Hindu has suggested that “India is already the biggest importer of Chinese consumer goods and the extent of its imports from China is seven times more than its exports to it." Some of the apps on the list like TikTok, Helo, Bigo Live, and even ShareIt have a considerable user base in India. The app 'ShareIt' has about a million users in India. TikTok itself registered about 120 million monthly active users last year and at the end of April 2020, the 15-second video-sharing app had hit 2 billion downloads, with India leading the chart.

Indian applications like Bolo, Indya, Roposo, and InMobi will get benefit from this ban. This step can sway to be a golden moment in the Indian startup journey with 'Made in India' apps getting a rare opportunity to onboard those users and supply them with these services. Indian technology ecosystem has come a long way in the last 5 to 6 years and is at par with the capabilities of any other startup ecosystem in the world. As per the reports Byte Dance Ltd, the company which owns the Chinese application like TikTok has faced a loss of $6 billion due to the ban imposed by the Indian government on its 3 applications which include TikTok. Giant tech firms like Alibaba Group Holding Limited and Baidu are facing big trouble because of the ban imposed by the Indian government.

China most certainly has opposed the decision of banning its apps by the Indian Government. In fact, with reference to a recent statement by the Chinese Embassy, it can be observed that China suspects India to have taken the decision of alleged ban of Chinese apps in violation of the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The statement read, “India's measure selectively and discriminatorily aims at certain Chinese apps on ambiguous and far-fetched grounds, runs against fair and transparent procedure requirements, abuses national security exceptions, and (is suspected) of violating the WTO rules. It also goes against the general trend of international trade and e-commerce and is not conducive to consumer interests and the market competition in India."

CONCLUSION

The agenda of calling for an 'Aatmanirbhar Bharat' has already surged an undercover tirade in the country and more is to come in the near future after the ban of more than 100 Chinese apps. The 'Make in India' campaign of the government had been launched to produce and promote Indian goods and services. The development and growth of Indian applications are very necessary for the arena of digital services to sustain the Indian digital economy and compete with our counterparts globally.

Some Indian users believe that due to the recent decision of the Indian government to ban Chinese apps will result in unreasonable restriction of their access to these apps and the ability to express. However, the ban on the other hand, not only relaxes the tensions relating to data protection and emerging threats to the sovereignty and integrity of India but also gives rise to the growing aspect of 'Self-reliant India'. By banning the Chinese applications, the government of India aims to develop its indigenous and domestic sector and portray to the world that its self-reliance in the sector of digital services. The use of Indian apps will generate a huge amount of revenue which in turn brings impetus to the digital economy.

[i] PUCL v. Union of India (1997) 1 SCC 301

The Author is an Advocate at Supreme Court of India, Founder-Partner, Chambers of Himanjali Gautam, Ex-President- Law Centre 2, Faculty of Law DU, Columnist, Public Speaker and TV Debate Panellist

 

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