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World of Chinese apps and Indian ban over privacy, security | 10 quick points

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By now, you know which Chinese smart phone apps are banned in India. The government has acted against these apps due to “emergent nature of threats” posed by them. Officially, the reason is that these apps were found to be engaged in activities “prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order”.

Simply put, these apps are accused of compromising an individual user’s privacy, spying for sensitive information, covertly running propaganda antithetical to Indian interests, and thereby posing a threat to public.

1. India may be the first country to ban a bouquet of Chinese apps but it is not the first one to raise concerns about the privacy and security of smart phone applications built and promoted by Chinese companies. Only recently, the US national security advisor Robert O’Brien said all Chinese companies function as arms of the Communist Party of China (CPC) to further its ideological and geopolitical agendas.

2. The CPC, in O’Brien’s words, “is collecting your most intimate data — your words, actions, purchases, whereabouts, health records, social media posts, texts and mapping your network of friends, family and acquaintances it is not telecom hardware or software profits the CPC [is] after, it is your data. They use ‘backdoors’ built into the products to obtain that dataThis is micro targeting.”

3. According to cyber security firm RiskIQ, there are about 90 lakh smart phone apps in cyber space, 40 per cent of which are Chinese. RiskIQ says 2019 saw people downloading 200 billion units of mobile apps. In terms of money, they spent $120 billion. A proportionate share means China got $48 billion from the download of these apps in 2019.

4. The Indian government’s action banning the 59 Chinese apps has come against the backdrop of India-China military tension at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh and a simultaneous build up in Uttarakhand and Sikkim-Arunachal Pradesh sectors.

5. But the decision to ban these 59 apps is not exclusively linked to the military tension. The move began much earlier. Chinese troops were not yet heading to the LAC with a planned design to change the status quo there.

6. For about two years, different cyber security wings of the government and intelligence units had been calling for action against some of the Chinese apps. They suspected these apps to be stealing information for greater Chinese penetration into India’s youth market and censoring content to mould opinions.

7. A month before the Galwan clash took place, the government had issued an advisory warning people about the dangers of apps stealing information. The April 16 advisory was issued in the wake of questions being raised over virtual meetings using Zoom. Even Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had been seen using the app.

8. That Chinese government is using smart phone apps for propaganda was highlighted by a US government funded body, the Open Technology Fund (OTF), which red-flagged Study The Great Nation app ostensibly meant for offering basic information about China. But the OTF said the app was being used to promote Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ideology. Interestingly, the Chinese word used for this app – Xuexi – is the family name of Xi Jinping.

9. A remarkable aspect of the gigantic growth of Chinese mobile apps is Xi Jinping regime’s tight leash on foreign applications. A quick glance at the mobile apps and websites banned in China throws up names such as WhatsApp, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Netflix, YouTube, BBC, The New York Times and even Quora. The pre-competition elimination of potential competitors gave Chinese apps a free run to grow and colonise the world cyber space. And, in 2017, China passed a law that makes its obligatory for all Chinese company operating anywhere in the world to share any information it gathers and which can be categorised as “intelligence”.

10. Security concerns about Chinese apps only increased with allegations surrounding 5G technology of Huawei. In 2017, the US and British intelligence reports linked Huawei’s 5G technology with the PLA and the national security commission of the CPC. Many countries such as Australia, Germany, the UK and the US have either blocked Huawei 5G equipment or adopted stricter cyber security protocol for their use. Some countries even warned India when it allowed Huawei in yet-to-begin 5G trials.

Chinese apps banned by Indian government

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