NEW DELHI – The Indian government imposed on Monday a ban on 59 mobile phone applications – mostly Chinese ones including the widely popular TikTok –, citing data and national security concerns, weeks after 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a border clash with the neighboring country.
The ministry of information and technology said in a statement that it had decided to block the apps based on available information that “they are engaged in activities which is prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defense of India, security of state and public order.”
“The ministry has received many complaints from various sources including several reports about misuse of some mobile apps (…) for stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorized manner to servers which have locations outside India,” said the statement, citing data security and privacy concerns for “1.3 billion Indians.”
It said that the compilation, mining and profiling of the data by “elements hostile to national security and defense of India,” was a threat to the “sovereignty and integrity” of the country and required emergency measures.
The first app on the Indian government’s list is widely popular video-sharing platform TikTok, which has its main market in India with nearly 470 million users at the end of 2019, much higher than the 173 million users it had registered in China.
The application, developed by Chinese company ByteDance, has been a rage among youngsters across the world as it allows easy tools to produce short videos – of 15-60 seconds – on mobile phones with special effects and music.
It was the most downloaded app worldwide during the first three months of 2020 with 308 million new users, according to United States-based market analyst Sensor Tower.
Similar apps such as Vigo Video – of the same company – have also been blocked apart from messengers like QQ Mail, owned by Chinese tech giant Tencent, which also owns QQ Player and QQ Music, two other applications on the list.
The Indian government has also banned video application “Likee,” which was the sixth most downloaded app worldwide in the first quarter of 2020 with nearly 100 million downloads and is owned by Singapore-based company Bigo Technology.
The decision, which mainly affects Chinese companies, comes as Beijing and New Delhi have been trying to deescalate border tensions after the worst clash between their troops in decades, in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed and 76 injured on June 15 in the western Himalayan region of Ladakh.
The military and diplomatic officials of the two countries have held several discussions to ease tensions after the troops clashed in the Galwan valley area, despite accusing each other of violating the de-facto border in the region.
However, India has witnessed mounting public anger towards the neighboring country, with several traders’ and civil organizations issuing calls to boycott Chinese products and applications in recent days.
The two countries have witnessed weeks of military tensions and escalation after another clash in May – without any casualties – along the nearly 4,000-kilometers long border between the two countries.