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Remove China Apps Banned from Play Store: Did it Violate Privacy, Google Policies?

Remove China Apps Banned from Play Store: Did it Violate Privacy, Google Policies?

For the period when Remove China Apps remained operational, it did not inspire much confidence in terms of its origin, or privacy stance.

Shouvik Das
  • News18.com
  • Last Updated: June 3, 2020, 1:44 PM IST
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Remove China Apps, an app that claimed to scan your phone to identify other apps made by Chinese developers, has finally been banned by Google for likely violations of its developer policies. Made by a company named OneTouch AppLabs, Remove China Apps jumped on to the ‘swadeshi’, ‘aatmanirbhar’ and ‘vocal for local’ bandwagons and catapulted itself to popularity, garnering over a million downloads in a brief span of time. However, taking a closer look at the app reveals that there were multiple aspects about the app, as well as its maker, that seemed problematic from the onset.

Privacy credentials

Prior to ‘Remove China Apps’ being banned, a quick look at the one-page privacy document offered against the app raised a number of questions. Beginning with the information that the app collected from its users, Remove China Apps stated that it reads ‘the number of clicks on the app feature’, mobile network code, and detailed information about other apps installed on your phone. It remained unclear if the app read your inputs on your phone to see which apps you are using.

Furthermore, the maker of the Remove China Apps app, OneTouch AppLabs, also stated that all the information that was read by the app was collected by it, and used to “provide you better features and experience”. However, the mode of operation of the app was said to be by comparing a pre-defined list of app and developer names that were flagged as Chinese. As a result, it wasn’t clear as to what “better features and experience” did OneTouch aim to provide to its users. The privacy document also claimed that data collected from the app was used to “improve the app”, which leaves a lot of ambiguity about the app’s practices.

Remove China Apps also does not talk about how it stores user data, and includes no redressal clause in case of a data breach. There is no detail mentioned about where collected user data is stored, either. All of this combined made for an app that would have made for a highly questioned and criticised application, had it not been for the locally manufactured narrative. On this note, even if anti-Google sentiments appear to have been raised online at the time of writing this, it is important that users who had already downloaded the app delete it immediately, since there is little to no clarity on the exact form of data that is collected, and how big a risk to privacy does it represent.

Play Store policies and possible violations

While Google has not clarified exactly which Play Store developer policy did Remove China Apps violate, there appears to be more than one ground that the app may have violated. In the Privacy, Security and Deception category, clauses that Remove China Apps may have violated include failure for limitation of data, certain sections of device and network abuse, deceptive behaviour, spam and minimum functionality, and policy enforcement as well. While the app was not in direct violation of all of these policy clauses, there are multiple sub-clauses that the app appears to violate, which makes it all the more questionable in terms of being trusted.

Ambiguous developer

News18 sent a detailed questionnaire about OneTouch’s identity, the individuals behind the app, and key questions about the app’s privacy credentials. However, OneTouch failed to respond to any of our questions. One of the questions raised by us was about the existence of the company, about which surprisingly little information appears to be available online. A quick check about the developer’s website reveals that its domain was registered on May 8.

However, OneTouch AppLabs, on its website, claims that it has over eight years of history on app development. Yet, further checks on Android’s Google Play Store and Apple’s iOS App Store showed no convincing details. When it was live, ‘Remove China Apps’ was the only app by OneTouch that was seen on the Google Play Store, while no presence of it was seen on Apple’s iOS App Store. This also increases ambiguity in terms of user trust. OneTouch’s website says that it is based in Jaipur but does not offer any further contact details. News18 could not trace the company’s details accurately, further raising doubt.

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