Chinese apps are thriving in India, despite being banned for almost a year

Despite being banned in India for almost a year, some Chinese apps – some from companies that were explicitly banned- have continued to grow at unprecedented levels.

Last year, the Centre brought down hundreds of Chinese apps for engaging in activities ‘prejudicial to the sovereignty, integrity and security of the country’.

On September 2, the government had banned 118 more apps and in November it blocked 43 new Chinese mobile apps in the country, including shopping website AliExpress.

In January this year, India also permanently blocked 59 of these apps, including TikTok.

But apps like Alibaba, Bytedance, and Xiaomi have grown exponentially since.

A TOI investigation has found that at least 8 of the top 60 apps in India today are Chinese operated, and together reach over 211 million users every month.

The same apps had 96 million users in July 2020 when they were banned – implying that they acquired 115 million new users in the last 13 months.

Most of these companies listed their apps under new company names, with little public information about the ownership, in an attempt to mask any Chinese connection.

The clampdown, at the height of a prolonged border standoff with China, had seen the government ban popular apps like TikTok, PUBG, Likee, Shareit, WeChat and CamScanner, Baidu Search, Snack Video, Cam Card, WeWorkChina and WeDate, apart from some apps by Xiaomi.

“Ministry of Electronics and IT has issued the order for blocking the access of these apps… based on the comprehensive reports received from Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Center, Ministry of Home Affairs… Government is committed to protecting the interests of citizens and sovereignty and integrity of India on all fronts and it shall take all possible steps to ensure that,” the government had said.

Nearly all the new apps belong to media and entertainment space, which is where companies such as Tiktok (by Bytedance), and SnackVideo (by Kuaishou) were operating when banned in 2020, the TOI report stated.

When contacted, the public relations teams of Bytedance and UC Browser did not comment. A spokesperson for Xiaomi said, “Being a responsible corporate, we give paramount importance to ensuring that we are compliant with all Indian laws and the orders issued by the Indian government and have always abided by this principle.”

The company said that “all the Xiaomi apps owned (functionally or otherwise) that were ordered to be blocked for access in India have been duly blocked and removed from our smartphones and we have also taken all measures to inform users about these blocked apps.”

Government officials TOI spoke to said that any action against new apps will be taken only after security agencies raise a red flag over their functioning.

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