The Information and Technology Ministry on Friday banned 47 apps, which are clones or variants of Chinese-linked 59 apps earlier banned in June.
A month since the last ban, sources in the Ministry tells The Indian Express that “the problem is with the operational ethics of certain apps. This is an ongoing process. If apps qualify under the same grounds of operational ethics, then they will also come under the scanner.” The source said “operational ethics” refers to data going back to the Chinese government.
Citing the “emergent nature of threats” from mobile applications, including popular ones of Chinese origin such as TikTok, ShareIt, UCBrowser, Club Factory and CamScanner, the Centre had banned 59 apps on June 29 based on information that they were engaged in activities “prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity”, defence, security and public order.
Among the apps banned under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act are some of the most downloaded in the country, with Indians making up the largest chunk of many user bases.
The move was seen as a retaliatory step amid the tense border standoff between India and China that led to 20 Indian Army personnel being killed on June 15. State-owned telecom companies also moved to keep Chinese vendors out of their network upgradation tenders.
“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 unauthorised manner to servers which have locations outside India,” the government had said in a statement on June 29.
“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,” it said.
“On the basis of these and upon receiving of recent credible inputs that such Apps pose threat to sovereignty and integrity of India, the Government…has decided to disallow the usage of certain Apps, used in both mobile and non-mobile Internet enabled devices,” it said.
The firms were asked to clarify their data-sharing norms under a Chinese law that requires companies of Chinese origin to share data with that country’s intelligence agencies, irrespective of where they operate. Additionally, the government is expected to ask companies without a presence in India to appoint a local grievance officer.
NCSC head Rajesh Pant told The Indian Express after the June ban: “We have technical means of finding out where the data is going, what the hidden codes are. Based on these findings and an accumulation of complaints, this decision has been taken in a whole-of-government approach…”
Asked about concerns over Chinese retaliation, he said: “I am not worried about any backlash by anyone.” On some of the applications listed not being “Chinese-owned”, Pant said: “The company may be registered in Singapore but the servers are in China and China is collecting the data.”
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