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    Top-level government panel to probe data practices of Chinese apps

    Synopsis

    A central committee will conduct a detailed inquiry into the data-sharing practices of these apps.

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    NEW DELHI | BENGALURU: Representatives from the 59 Chinese apps banned by India on Monday can appear before a government-constituted committee within 48 hours of the announcement to prove that the data of Indian users is not being sent to servers in China, top officials told ET.

    The committee, which is likely to meet on Wednesday, will conduct a detailed inquiry into the data-sharing practices of these apps, including top social media platforms TikTok, Helo and WeChat.

    Executives from apps such as TikTok, Bigo Live and Likee said they will cooperate with the government in the investigations and that they had begun the process.

    Officials from the ministry of home affairs, ministry of electronics & IT, ministry of information & broadcasting, and law & justice will be part of the panel, along with Sanjay Bahl, director general of CERT-In — India’s nodal agency for internet security.
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    “Given the threat to national security and public order, the ban was necessary at a time of increasing tensions with China,” said a senior government official.

    “Emergency provisions” under law were invoked to ban the apps owing to concerns that some of these were being used for “espionage” on Indians, the official said.

    China Expresses Serious Concern
    On Tuesday, China issued a statement expressing serious concern over the ban.

    “India’s measure selectively and discriminatorily aims at certain Chinese apps on ambiguous and far-fetched grounds, runs against fair and transparent procedure requirements, abuses national security exceptions, and (is) suspected of violating the WTO rules,” said Ji Rong, a spokesperson of the Chinese embassy.

    Arguing that the ban goes against the general trend of international trade and ecommerce, the spokesperson said it was also not conducive to consumer interest and market competition. “The ban will affect local employment in India,” the spokesperson said.

    Meanwhile, government officials said they were confident the ban order will stand legal scrutiny. Pointing out that the ban is an interim one, an official said, “These are all provisions under the law.”

    Nikhil Gandhi, India head of TikTok, said the company had been invited to meet with government stakeholders for an opportunity to respond and submit clarifications. “TikTok continues to comply with all data privacy and security requirements under Indian law and has not shared any information of our users in India with any foreign government, including the Chinese government. Further, if we are requested in the future, we would not do so.”

    On Tuesday, the app went offline with a message to users: “We are in the process of complying with the government of India’s directive to block 59 apps. Ensuring the privacy and security of all our users in India remains our utmost priority.”

    INDIA A HUGE MARKET
    In terms of users, India is one of the largest markets for Chinese apps after their home market and the US.

    Stocks of Chinese companies such as Alibaba, Baidu, Weibo and YY closed in the red on US stock exchanges on Monday, following the announcement of the ban.

    ByteDance, which owns TikTok, is said to be mulling a listing on US stock exchanges by 2021. TikTok’s ranking on the Android Play Store dropped significantly following the ban order.

    A senior executive with Joyy Inc, the parent of Chinese apps Bigo Live and Likee, said the company will consult the government, and is not contemplating any legal action. “The intent is to work with the government and not against it. We are happy to take initiative and comply with any policy changes proposed,” he said.

    LEGAL CHALLENGES FACTORED IN
    The government has factored in potential legal challenges by the owners of the banned Chinese apps and is hopeful the courts will support its decision. More so, as the decision to ban the apps was based on 300 documented requests from eminent people and organisations, including the Congress party, and has been imposed with respect to public order and national security at a time when tensions with China are at an all-time high, said the official cited earlier.

    “We don’t think any court will disagree with the government and ask us to conduct an inquiry before banning the apps, especially in such a tense situation,” said a top official.

    Digital activists such as the Internet Freedom Foundation have argued that each case needs to be considered individually. “The website blocks are directed on an aggregated basis against 59 websites. Here common grounds and reasoning is made which goes against the individualised nature of the blocking power under Section 69A and the Blocking Rules,” it said on Twitter on Monday.

    ‘LOOKING TO HOLD TALKS’
    A lawyer representing ByteDance indicated the company may not approach courts directly and will first try to engage with the government. The person, who requested anonymity, questioned the move to “club” the 59 apps together. “ByteDance will engage with the government. If the government thinks China cares about banning social media apps, it is mistaken. These aren’t strategic industries,” the person said.

    ShareIT, UC Browser and shopping app Club Factory are among the other prominent apps that have been blocked amid heightened tensions along the border with China. The ban was meant to counter the threat posed by these applications to the country’s “sovereignty and security”, the government said in a press release late on Monday.

    Paul Haswell, partner for Hong Kong-based law firm Pinsent Masons, said the development was part of a larger geopolitical situation as increasing tensions play out globally. “Technology is increasingly being subject to restrictions as states fall into disputes over a broad range of topics, as we have seen with US sanctions against Chinese tech vendors,” he said.

    ‘MOVE JUSTIFIED’
    Haswell said India is free to take any steps and may be justified since there are concerns as to how the apps in question compromise user data. “Certainly, China restricts apps and technology within China. So India is just following suit.”

    “The ban has opened a Pandora’s Box with regard to regulating data flows and is a short-term solution to an ongoing crisis,” said Kazim Rizvi of digital policy think tank The Dialogue.

    “There is a need for stronger data protection frameworks, secure digital infrastructure and deeper cooperation between like-minded countries in fighting rising threats from across the borders,” Rizvi said.

    (With inputs from Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury)

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    22 Comments on this Story

    Pravin Modi150 days ago
    Unless Bharatvarsh gets couched on the issue by Mossad the former will remain perpetually vulnerable to a lot of sync the extent known only to pingu and his handful close associates. Taiwan used the dragon’s platform for its india landing.. the big boys of the west will sell anybody anything and everything for a price normally in millions and billions. We do not know the extent of damage besides being defunct on damage control tools 🧰 unlike big powers.
    Leon Fernandes150 days ago
    good decision. the Chinese backed companies should bear the brunt now.
    Alok Bhattamishra150 days ago
    Indian Govt's action on Banning the Chinese apps is totally justified and duty bound. Its the call of the hour and in total alignment of the national security and data privacy. How come China restrict all leading Apps and search engines like Google, U tube, Whats app.. on which justification..
    China is a rough state and land mafia and uses any means not only to show aggression to its neighbours , other countries...but also to its own citizens. It brutally tortured and killed its own children at Tienanmen square, Beijing in 1992, in Tibet crushed innocent Buddisht Monks,killed the thinktanks opposed to its oppression , at Hongkong killing students and lastly eliminating the Whistle Blower doctor who first detected Corona Virus at Wuhan.
    Its really strange and questionable that India which boasts of its Software Technology Industry and produced many genious and leading in the world in this sector is lagging far behind China and other tiny nations and is helpless in designing and creating any User friendly Mobile Apps, websites and search engines and other software applications and is going day by day totally dependent on China..!! How come a country whose stronghold is into Software development ..is also failing to dominate the world in this domain too...and depending on Chinese apps... Just careless and indifferent attitude of our Industries and Government. What action has Govt taken to make india a dominant player in this chellenging and strategic field ?? Why r we ignorant?
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