India Blocks High-Profile Chinese Apps on Political, Privacy Concerns

Technology minister bans, Baidu, WeChat Work, AliPay and 115 others for capturing using data and transmitting it to servers outside of the country without authorization.

India has blocked 118 more mobile apps in its continued crackdown on the use mobile apps from China, citing concerns that they transmit user data out of the country and threaten its “sovereignty and integrity” as political tensions between the two countries rise.

Though not all of the apps banned by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology are from China, most of them are. Among those banned are Baidu, from China’s search giant; the popular Chinese WeChat Work app; and AliPay, a mobile payment app from Ant Group.

The ministry also blocked the app that was top among mobile games in India last year and a significant revenue generator–PlayerUnkwown’s Battlegrounds, or PUBG. Indian consumers spent $15.2 million in the App Store and Google Play on the app, which was downloaded more than 54 million times in the country, according to analytics firm Sensor Tower.

The ministry 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 unauthorized manner to servers which have locations outside India,” according to a statement, which includes the full list of the newly banned apps.

“The compilation of these data, its mining and profiling by elements hostile to national security and defence (sic) 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 ministry said.

The move comes not long after India began banning Chinese apps due to political concerns after soldiers on the border between two countries clashed in June, resulting in the death of 20 Indian soldiers.

Later that month, India banned 59 Chinese apps, including TikTok, which itself has been the target of controversy across the world—particularly in the United States–for its questionable data-collection tactics. UC Browser, Weibo and WeChat also were among the Chinese mobile apps that India banned in June.

Ministry officials said they consulted with various Indian government agencies—including the Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre and Ministry of Home Affairs—which sent an “exhaustive recommendation for blocking these malicious apps” before their final decision to ban them.

“Likewise, there have been similar bipartisan concerns, flagged by various public representatives, both outside and inside the Parliament of India,” according to the statement. “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 our citizens.”

Indeed, mobile apps have become a new political battleground for nations due to their data-collection and cyberespionage capabilities, facing more scrutiny than ever from world governments, privacy advocates, and the companies that sell and market mobile apps.

TikTok’s collection of and transmission back to China of data has been widely documented, leading President Trump to recently threaten to ban the app stateside, despite its enormous popularity. Reports have said that several U.S. companies—including Microsoft, Oracle and Walmart—aim to purchase the app from its Chinese owners, ByteDance, to try to put a stop to the controversy.

Google also this week removed an app from the Google Play store for political reasons. The company removed an app called NEXTA LIVE that was available for about three weeks on the store and was used to collect personal information from people attending anti-government protests in Belarus. The protests began in earnest in August after long-time Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory in yet another disputed presidential election in that country.

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