India bans 59 China-linked phone apps, orders companies to block them

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In a huge move, the central government on Monday decided to ban 59 mobile applications linked to China on grounds of national security. A formal order, asking phone companies to block the applications, was issued after weeks of discussions that started much before the Ladakh border standoff with China. But government officials told Hindustan Times that the deliberations were fast-tracked after June 15 violent scrap between soldiers at Galwan valley in eastern Ladakh.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who had extended his complete support to the move to block the China-linked applications, signed off on Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla’s recommendation on Saturday. Since the government had decided against just issuing an advisory cautioning people about the risks associated with these applications, the formal orders were issued by the IT ministry.

A statement by the information technology ministry said a decision had been taken to block 59 applications “since in view of the information available, they are engaged in activities prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order”.

The applications include popular short-video app TikTok, and other utility and content apps such as UC browser, Xender, SHAREit and Clean-master.

COMPLETE LIST OF 59 MOBILE APPS BLOCKED IN INDIA
  • TikTok, Shareit, Kwai
  • UC Browser, Baidu map
  • Shein, Clash of Kings
  • DU battery saver, Helo
  • Likee, YouCam makeup, QQ Newsfeed
  • Mi Community, CM Browsers
  • Virus Cleaner, APUS Browser
  • ROMWE, Club Factory, Newsdog
  • Beauty Plus, WeChat, UC News,
  • QQ Mail, Weibo, Xender, QQ Music
  • Bigo Live, SelfieCity, Mail Master
  • Parallel Space, Mi Video Call – Xiaomi
  • WeSync, ES File Explorer
  • Viva Video – QU Video Inc
  • Meitu, Vigo Video, New Video Status
  • DU Recorder, Vault- Hide
  • Cache Cleaner DU App studio
  • DU Cleaner, DU Browser
  • Hago Play With New Friends
  • Cam Scanner, Clean Master – Cheetah Mobile
  • Wonder Camera, Photo Wonder
  • QQ Player, We Meet, Sweet Selfie
  • Baidu Translate, Vmate, QQ International
  • QQ Security Center, QQ Launcher
  • U Video, V fly Status Video
  • Mobile Legends, DU Privacy

Explaining the decision, the IT ministry pointed to the raging concerns on aspects relating to data security and safeguarding the privacy of 130 crore Indians. It has been noted recently that such concerns also pose a threat to sovereignty and security of our country. The Ministry of Information Technology 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.

“The compilation of these data, its mining and profiling by elements hostile to national security and defence 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,” said the IT ministry statement.

Indian intelligence agencies had been pushing for restrictions on the mobile applications on grounds that the apps were designed to extract data and park them outside the country where they could be used to intrude into the privacy of citizens.

Chinese companies have long been suspected of building backdoors in their hardware and software, one reason why many governments across the world have been uneasy at the prospect of deploying Chinese-made 5G networking equipment.

Robert O’Brien, the National Security Adviser in the Trump administration, had recently detailed how China-linked companies acted as an arm of Beijing’s communist party and tried to “control thoughts” to serve the party’s interests.

The communist party is “collecting your most intimate data — your words, your actions, your purchases, your whereabouts, your health records, your social media posts, your texts, and mapping your network of friends, family, and acquaintances”, he said. This information could be used to influence, to coerce and to even blackmail individuals to say and do things that serve the party’s interests, O’Brien said in a recent lecture on China.

O’Brien had also spoken about another facet. Where these companies remove information that doesn’t favour China. Like TikTok, he said, accounts criticising the communist party’s policies are routinely removed or deleted.