India Bans TikTok, Calling It A Malicious App

Following mounting domestic pressure to boycott goods made in China, the Indian government on Monday ordered the blocking of 59 Chinese apps, including TikTok, WeChat, Shareit and Clash of Kings.

The Indian government described the move as protecting personal information from so-called “malicious apps” that “harm India’s sovereignty and the privacy of our citizens”.

Tensions between the two nuclear powers have been mounting for weeks following a border conflict in the Himalayas in which Chinese forces killed at least 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese soldiers died. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been criticized domestically, undermining his strong image and conciliatory stance towards China, which India has fought sporadically since a war in 1962.

“While the prime minister recently called for self-employment, the idea was to build skills and not boycott products from India’s second largest trading partner,” Abhishek Baxi, technology journalist and digital advisor, told BuzzFeed News. “While action against smartphone brands would be too much, the ban on apps is a low-hanging fruit for political stance.”

The 59 apps include some of the most popular and controversial in the country. As of June 2019, the last date information was available, the TikTok video sharing app was used by an estimated 200 million people in the country in October 2019. (Tiktok hasn’t released any newer user numbers for the country.) In April 2019, India banned the app for just over a week over concerns about child pornography.

As this ban has shown, restricting the apps is not as easy as a government decree. It requires the collaboration of Google and Apple, who run the stores that sell the apps. As of Monday, these companies hadn’t indicated whether or not they would honor the order. Apple and Google have not yet responded to requests for comment.

On Tuesday evening, TikTok issued a statement saying the company’s executives had “been invited to meet with concerned government stakeholders to respond and provide clarifications.”

Earlier this month, Google removed an app called “Remove China Apps” from the Play Store in India that had been downloaded 4.7 million times and claimed to be scouring people’s phones for Chinese apps and deleting them.

TikTok owner ByteDance is one of the world’s most valuable companies, valued at over $ 100 billion as of May, according to Business Insider. With its headquarters in Beijing, it is also one of the main vectors of Chinese soft power. Its popularity is a cause for concern around the world, including from US Senators, Egyptian courts, and Australian regulators.

“This is not just India specific,” said Abhijeet Mukherjee, the founder of Guiding Tech. “Dissatisfaction with how some of these apps are ‘likely’ to cross the line has increased.”

The ban also included the group chat platform WeChat, owned by the Chinese conglomerate Tencent, the mobile game Clash of Kings, and the file-sharing app ShareIt, which Kashmiris used in February to promote one of the Indian government, according to BuzzFeed News to avoid the internet shutdown. It did not include some well-known Chinese-owned apps, including certain apps from Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba.

Despite the liberalization of its foreign direct investment policy under Modi, the Indian government recently changed course. In April, the Central Bank of China acquired a 1.01% stake in India’s largest housing lender. After that, the Indian government announced a new policy aimed at reducing Chinese investment in Indian companies. Although Chinese investments in India are low, capital is disproportionately concentrated in the technology sector. According to Hindu, 18 of the 30 largest startups are significantly involved.

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