India bans TikTok, other Chinese apps amid standoff

NEW DELHI (AP) – Indian TikTok users awoke last Tuesday to a notice from the popular short-video app saying the company was working to comply with an India government ban on dozens of Chinese apps amid a military standoff between the two countries.

While service in India was suspended, the ban was largely symbolic since the apps can’t be automatically erased from devices where they’ve already been downloaded. The move was a response to a border clash with China where 20 Indian soldiers died earlier this month, digital experts said.

“They want to send a message. This is a decision based on a geopolitical situation,” said digital rights activist Nikhil Pahwa.

Indian protesters have been calling for a boycott of Chinese goods since the June 15 confrontation in the remote Karakoram mountain border region.

Yesterday, the government said that it was banning 59 Chinese-owned apps, including TikTok, which is operated by Chinese Internet firm Bytedance. It cited privacy concerns that it said pose a threat to India’s sovereignty and security.

The banned apps include some that enable TikTok users to add visual effects and music to their posts, as well as dating apps, privacy apps and multiplayer games.

India’s Information Technology Ministry issued a statement saying it had received reports that mobile apps were “stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data”.

The compilation of such data, and its mining and profiling by elements hostile to India is “a matter of very deep and immediate concern which requires emergency measures”, it said.

TikTok’s countermove, shifting data to Ireland, shows how integrated the two economies have become. Chinese products are ubiquitous in India, from toys to smartphones to Made-in-China idols. Two-way trade grew from USD3 billion in 2000 to USD95 billion in 2018, according to Indian government data, with the balance strongly favouring China.

“There is too much of Chinese presence in the everyday life of the average Indian,” said Alka Acharya, professor of Chinese Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. The soldiers’ deaths meant the Indian government had to hit back, Acharya said.