The Indian government has announced a fourth ban on Chinese apps, bringing the total number of apps banned in India to 267. With 43 new apps banned today, the government has followed up on the June 29 ban that suspended popular social media app TikTok from India. India followed this up with 47 more apps banned in July 27, and subsequently, 118 more apps banned including the massively popular PUBG Mobile. The latest ban comes in light of persistent conflicts between India and China at the geopolitical border, including China’s state-backed hacker activities among Indian citizen.
Earlier today, a notice issued by the government of India on the matter said, “Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Government of India today issued an order under section 69A of the Information Technology Act blocking access to 43 mobile apps. This action was taken based on the inputs regarding these apps for engaging in activities which are prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order. Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has issued the order for blocking the access of these apps by users in India based on the comprehensive reports received from Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre, Ministry of Home Affairs.”
The notice further added, “Earlier on 29th June, 2020 the Government of India had blocked access to 59 mobile apps and on 2nd September, 2020 118 more apps were banned under section 69A of the Information Technology Act. Government is committed to protect the interests of citizens and sovereignty and integrity of India on all fronts and it shall take all possible steps to ensure that.” In light of this ban, what comes to light is how much the series of bans can hurt China’s ambitions, particularly with the Digital Silk Route project.
The Digital Silk Route is the technology equivalent of the BRI project, the Belt and Road Initiative which China has initiated to get an edge as a global technology and economic giant. The BRI attempts to connect Asia with Africa and Europe with land and maritime networks along six corridors, in an attempt to boost trade. China has also tied up with 16 other countries but has also been investing its own resources and creating a digital framework abroad. This includes optical cable lines, data hubs and other critical infrastructure projects which China needs to control the global digital discourse.
This move could also have a cascading effect, as more countries could end up banning these apps in the coming days. There has been a global conversation over the past few months about the possible backdoors in Chinese company Huawei’s 5G mobile network infrastructure allowing the company or even the Chinese government to snoop in on user data. Many countries have either banned Huawei’s 5G network hardware altogether or are reluctant to use it.
This ban on popular Chinese-owned apps, including social networks such as TikTok, could have a longer-term impact on the company valuations as well, after a large chunk of their user base has been effectively shut out. At this time, it is not clear how long the ban will be in place but there are multiple recommendations in place on how to block these potentially malicious apps from being used on internet networks within India.