India will summon dozens of Chinese tech companies to answer accusations they are “surreptitiously stealing data”, with officials declining to outline how long the process will take.
India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (Meity) on Monday blacklisted 59 Chinese mobile phone apps, which had been downloaded almost 5bn times collectively according to SensorTower, describing them as a pressing threat to the country’s security and sovereignty.
The biggest target of the ban appears to be TikTok, the viral short video app with more than 200m Indian users, which was taken down from Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store on Tuesday.
Apple and Google said that, as of Tuesday afternoon, they had only received an order to remove TikTok and not the other 58 apps. TikTok, meanwhile, said it had asked voluntarily for its app to be taken down on Monday after the ban was published.
“We have been invited to meet with concerned government stakeholders for an opportunity to respond and submit clarifications,” said Nikhil Gandhi, head of TikTok India, in a statement.
Mr Gandhi said TikTok had complied with Indian data privacy and security requirements and that it had “not shared any information of our users in India with any foreign government, including the Chinese Government”.
An official at India’s Meity said a full investigation into all the apps was under way. “First the committee will examine the evidence given against them [the apps], then after examination, companies will be given a chance to explain,” said the official, who could not give a timeframe for the process.
China’s embassy in India attacked the move, saying that it ran “against fair and transparent procedure requirements”, abused “national security exceptions” and may be in violation of “WTO rules”. It added that the measure “selectively and discriminatorily aims at certain Chinese apps on ambiguous and far-fetched grounds”.
The ban on the Chinese apps followed a brutal border fight between Indian and Chinese troops earlier this month that has strained the relationship between the nuclear-armed neighbours.
The Chinese companies are now in the centre of a heated dispute between Beijing and New Delhi that threatens to roll back their progress in India, a market of 1.37bn people where US tech titans Facebook and Google are also battling for dominance alongside domestic rivals.
Chinese social media and gaming giant Tencent publishes or has backed about a dozen of the apps on the list. Its rival Alibaba was targeted too with its popular UC Browser app listed. Tencent declined to comment and Alibaba did not immediately provide a comment.
Out of India’s top 25 apps in the second quarter, eight were Chinese, Sensor Tower said.
One Chinese tech entrepreneur who is expecting his app to be banned said his team felt “ripped off” after putting time and money into India. He added that the ban would be a “significant discouragement for any future investment” into India.
But Indian competitors were celebrating. “This is a watershed moment in India,” said Naveen Tewari, the owner of video platform Roposo, which competes directly with TikTok.
“Roposo is now in a skyrocket mode as all the TikTok users and influencers are shifting to Roposo,” said Mr Tewari, “They had started to shift over the past few weeks but in the last 12 hours, it’s been totally different.”
One Mumbai-based consultant said: “I wonder if this is the moment now for Indian-based mobile video content and the development of a digital ecosystem.”
Additional reporting by Xinning Liu in Beijing
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