We ought to clarify ourstance on Chinese apps

Source: This post is based on the articles “Banning Chinese apps has proved to be ineffective” & “We ought to clarify our stance on Chinese apps” published in Business Standard and Livemint respectively on 30th August 2021.

What is the news?

A little over a year after India’s post-Galwan crackdown on Chinese apps for smartphones, several of these apps have been found to be still around.

Recent reports indicate a group of at least eight popular apps of Chinese origin have increased their combined Indian user-base to 211 million monthly users in July 2021, compared to the base of 96 million when they were banned in July 2020. Many more popular apps of Chinese origin are still in common usage.

Background

Between April and November 2020, the Indian government banned as many as 267 apps of Chinese origin, including apps of giants such as Alibaba, Bytedance, and Xiaomi.

  • This was under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, as the government was worried about data protection.
How are these apps still present in India?

These apps have used a mix of holding companies outside Mainland China, and of rebranding, to maintain and/or re-establish a presence.

  • These apps re-entered by setting up subsidiaries in Korea, Singapore, Indonesia, etc, and sometimes rebranded using new names. The companies providing these apps in India are generally subsidiaries located outside China.
  • Example: PUBG re-entered as a Korean app marketed by Krafton, for example. Krafton is controlled by Tencent. The fastest-growing app in India is PLAYit which offers downloads of popular movies and shows via Telegram. PLAYit is developed by Vidmate, which is owned and developed by UCWeb, which, in turn, is owned by Alibaba.
What should be done?
  • If Chinese investments in India are a concern, a deep review of the entire start-up ecosystem is required, since many start-ups have Chinese investors.
  • As a guiding principle, we should be granted explicit ownership of what we place in an app’s custody—so that clear and comprehensive rules can be framed for this data’s collection, use, storage and retention.
  • Should the state have a valid reason to fear the abuse of our data or cameras by errant apps, then our privacy law could enable blanket bans on them. For all this, we need a law drafted to maximize the security of individuals as much as the country.
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