India has banned a total of 59 Chinese apps, including the short-form viral video platform TikTok and the social network WeChat. The country's ministry of electronics and information technology claims these apps were "involved in activities that compromise India's sovereignty and integrity, India's defense, state security, and public order."
The ministry added in a press release that these apps pose a threat to Indian data security and privacy. While the basis of these allegations was not shared, action was taken on the basis of several reports that these platforms "secretly transmit user data to servers located outside of India in an unauthorized manner."
The online multiplayer strategy game Clash of Kings and the document scanning app, CamScanner, are also part of the ban. The full list can be found here.
The Indian government has not said how it will enforce this ban. Hours after the announcement, however, TikTok apps were downloaded from the Google Play Store and the iOS App Store in India, the largest market for the video platform.
At the beginning of April this year, TikTok exceeded 2 billion lifelong downloads, of which more than a quarter (611 million) were from India, according to sensor tower analysis company Mobile Apps. In comparison, the United States ranked third, accounting for 8.2 percent of these downloads.
In a statement, Nikhil Gandhi, head of TikTok India's operations, said the company "has not released any information about its users in India to a foreign government, including the Chinese government." Gandhi added that TikTok was given the opportunity to request and submit clarifications.
It is worth noting that this is not the first time that India has blocked TikTok. Last year in April, the video app was removed from the app stores after it was found to be hosting child pornography content. The ban was lifted a week later, but since then TikTok has largely been unable to evade control in the country.
None of these other blocked apps have been removed or commented. We contacted some of these developers and will update the story as soon as we hear anything.
India's abolition of these Chinese apps takes place a few days after the fatal clash with China, which killed at least 20 Indian soldiers. In the days that followed, the incident triggered a nationwide anti-China campaign in which citizens boycotted Chinese services and products. Earlier this month, Google pulled an app from the Play Store that Android users can use to easily recognize and delete apps developed by Chinese companies.
Experts believe that India's crackdown on Chinese apps is at best a political retaliation. The government has refused to share a legal system behind the ban and has not enacted it. The law underlying the action requires "a defined process of notification, consultation and a reasoned order" and bans are only passed as a last resort, said the Internet Freedom Foundation, a technology watchdog in a series of tweets.
More importantly, India's command could potentially have further global implications, particularly in the United States, where TikTok has already been banned by several government agencies, such as the Navy and the Army, citing similar security concerns. In February last year, TikTok was fined $ 5.7 million for violating COPPA, a data protection law for children. In November, the U.S. government also launched a national security investigation into TikTok. It remains to be seen whether India will give more steam to US TikTok concerns and eventually lead to a ban.