Editorial

Control, not delete: On China apps ban

Despite privacy issues with many apps, linking them to national security concerns is puerile

Citing concerns to both data security and national sovereignty, the Indian government on June 29 announced it would block 59 widely used apps, most linked to Chinese companies. These include the popular video-sharing social networking app TikTok, a mobile browser called UC Browser, and a file-sharing app called SHAREit. What is common to all three is their wide user base in India, with each claiming more than 100 million monthly active users, and their origins in China. Explaining the ban, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology cited “the emergent nature of threats” posed by the apps and “information available” that they are engaged in activities “prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order”. The apps, according to the Ministry, had been reported for “stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorized manner to servers which have locations outside India”, which “impinges upon the sovereignty and integrity of India”. From the perspective of data security and privacy, there is indeed a strong case to be made to more strictly regulate apps that handle vast amounts of user data. Such a move was surely long overdue.

But the government might have done the right thing for the wrong reasons. The timing of the move, coupled with the fact that it has chosen to block the apps outright, rather than ensure they were complying with the law, suggests the ban is less motivated by privacy concerns than about sending a message to China amid the tensions along the border. After all, privacy and data security concerns are not limited only to Chinese apps. Concerns about many of these apps are hardly new, and the move to block them comes after these apps had already amassed hundreds of millions of users in India. If sending a message about China is the motivation, the ban is more signalling than substance. It may help the government show the public it is taking China on, even if it will have no impact on deterring Chinese behaviour on the border, which will require a tough diplomatic and military response. The tensions on the border, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, have ignited a much-needed debate on India’s economic dependencies on China. India remains reliant on Chinese products in several critical and strategically sensitive sectors, from semiconductors and active pharmaceutical ingredients to the telecom sector, where Chinese vendors are involved not only in India’s 4G network but in on-going 5G trials as well. India faces tough choices going forward in dealing with its deep economic embrace of China. Hitting the delete button on social media and gaming apps barely scratches the surface of the problem.

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Printable version | Jul 6, 2020 8:56:25 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/control-not-delete-the-hindu-editorial-on-china-apps-ban/article31957852.ece

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