59 Chinese Apps Banned in India for Stealing user Data, including TikTok

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The Indian Government announced on Monday that they would block 59 Chinese apps on the grounds of Section 69A of the IT Act 2000. This decision comes amidst increasing political tensions between the two countries, as well as growing privacy concerns. According to India’s IT ministry, the apps will be banned because they jeopardize the sovereignty and integrity of the country by stealing user data and transmitting it to locations outside India without consent. The biggest of the banned apps is TikTok, but we can also see other user favorites, such as Clash of Kings, Baidu map, WeChat, Helo, and Mi Video.

This is a huge decision that could affect millions of smartphone users in India. TikTok alone has over 200 million Indian users and gets almost one third of total downloads from this country. Other notable apps that were banned include:

  • Community ad Video Call, two apps from Xiaomi, which is the main smartphone vendor in India. No banned apps belonged to Huawei, although the company is currently under scrutiny from the US.
  • UC Browser and UC News, both from Alibaba
  • Club Factory, an e-commerce app that gets more than half of its users from India

Of all the 59 apps that were banned, 27 were among the top 1,000 most downloaded Android apps in India.

Although the Indian Government has banned apps before, this is the first time that so many Chinese apps were banned in one go.

The decision is also interesting considering that it comes in amongst generalized user privacy concerns. After Apple announced the latest privacy features of iOS 14 last week, a beta showed that TikTok and 53 other apps were unknowingly snooping on user’s private data, in particular the information that they had copied on the clipboard. So, if users copied anything, including passwords, credit card numbers, or bitcoin addresses, the apps could access them. Soon after TikTok was exposed, the company announced that they would stop this practice as soon as possible. However, some iOS 14 beta testers are still reporting that they see a warning banner from Apple within the app, a sign that their clipboard data is still being accessed. After India announced that they would ban TikTok, many wonder if this could mark the end of the popular app.

So far, experts argue that the decision to ban the 59 Chinese apps is largely symbolic. At the time of writing this article, all the apps were still available in Google Play and Apple Store, although when India banned apps before, both companies were quick to withdraw them.

It also remains to be seen what will happen to users who already have the apps installed. Implementing the ban will be even more problematic in the case of stock apps that come with Xiaomi phones since those normally can’t be removed without a software update from the manufacturer or jailbreaking the phone.

It goes without saying that some users will take it upon themselves to uninstall the apps after seeing the list but, since it was the Indian Government who implemented the ban, it will be interesting to see what measures they’ll take next.