February 18, 2022 - 5:10 am

Govt. Bans 54 More China-Linked Apps

                The government has reportedly banned 54 more smartphone apps in India that may be Chinese origin. This is the first lot of apps that appears to have been banned by the government in 2022 after a total of 270 apps were banned since 2020. The banned apps were allegedly engaged in activities prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of the country, also posing serious threat to security of the state and defence of India.

                The list of banned mobile apps include Beauty Camera: Sweet Selfie HD, Beauty Camera - Selfie Camera, Rise of Kingdoms: Lost Crusade, Viva Video Editor, Tencent Xriver amongst others. Other apps that have been banned, as per fresh orders, include Garena Free Fire Illuminate, Astracraft, FancyU pro, MoonChat, Barcode Scanner - QR Code Scan, and Lica Cam. The new apps have been banned using emergency powers under Section 69 of the Information Technology Act. Most of these apps were operating as clones or shadow apps of the apps that had earlier been banned by the government. The ban on these apps was recommended by the Ministry of Home Affairs adding that they have also been removed from the Google PlayStore. In its statement, Google said that it temporarily blocked access to the apps in India.

                The crackdown marks the first such step taken this year after a massive sweep against the Chinese apps in 2020. In June 2020, the government had banned 59 apps with Chinese links, including hugely popular TikTok and UC Browser, saying they were prejudicial to sovereignty, integrity and security of the country. The 2020 ban -- that had come in the backdrop of stand-off along the Line of Actual control in Ladakh with Chinese troops -- was also applicable for WeChat and Bigo Live, besides Helo, Likee, CamScanner, Vigo Video, Mi Video Call Xiaomi, Clash of Kings as well as e-commerce platforms Club Factory and Shein. Thereafter, the government banned 47 more Chinese apps that were clones and variants of the apps blocked earlier. In September the same year, the government blocked 118 more mobile applications, including popular gaming app PUBG, terming them prejudicial to the sovereignty, integrity and defence of the nation. The banned apps in that lot included Baidu, Baidu Express Edition, Tencent Watchlist, FaceU, WeChat Reading and Tencent Weiyun, besides PUBG Mobile and PUBG Mobile Lite.

                The sources said the real-time data collected by these apps are being misused and transmitted to servers located in a hostile country. This will enable them to compile huge personal data to mine, collate, analyse and profile by the elements who are hostile to the sovereignty and integrity of India and for activities detrimental to national security. In addition, there are other serious concerns as some of these apps can carry out espionage and surveillance activities via camera/microphone, accessing fine location (GPS) and do malicious network activity similar to previously blocked apps. China has in the past said these bans were in violation of the WTO non-discriminatory principles and fair competition and “severely damaged” the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies. The government also recently blocked 60 Pakistan-backed YouTube channels.

                Shares of Sea plunged 18.4% in New York on Monday to wipe more than $16 billion from the company's market value, following reports of the latest ban. The ban spells trouble for Sea, as its e-commerce app, Shopee, already faces boycott calls by traders in India, who accuse it of trade practices that hurt offline traders. Trade group the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) has complained to regulators against Shopee and was 'surprised' at its absence from India's banned list.