- India on Monday banned 59 apps originating from China, including very popular ones like the short video platform TikTok, UC Browser, file sharing app ShareIt, and CamScanner, which allows iOS and Android devices to be used as image and document scanners.
What is the legal basis for India’s action?
- The ban has been enforced under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (“Power to issue directions for blocking for public access of any information through any computer resource”): “Where the Central Government or any of its officers specially authorised by it… is satisfied that it is necessary or expedient so to do, in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to above, it may… by order, direct any agency of the Government or intermediary to block for access by the public or cause to be blocked for access by the public any information generated, transmitted, received, stored or hosted in any computer resource.”
- The Ministry of Information and Technology has said that it “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 unauthorised manner to servers which have locations outside India”. Since this “ultimately impinges upon the sovereignty and integrity of India, is a matter of very deep and immediate concern which requires emergency measures”
How will the ban be enforced?
- The notification is expected to be followed by instructions to Internet service providers to block these apps.
- Users are likely to soon see a message saying access to the apps has been restricted on the request of the government.
- However, while this will impact apps like TikTok and UC News that need a live feed to serve any purpose, users might still be able to continue using apps that don’t need an active Internet connection to be used.
- But further downloads of these apps, like CamScanner, are likely to be blocked on Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store.
What will be the impact of the ban?
- Some apps on the banned list are very popular in India, especially TikTok, which has over 100 million active users in the country, mainly in the heartland.
- New social media platforms like Helo and Likee, as well as video chat app Bigo Live are immensely popular among Indians who are not comfortable in English. These users will have to look for substitutes.
- Also, most of these platforms have Indian creators, for many of whom this is the only source of income. Many of these apps have offices and employees in India, and a few thousand jobs could be at stake.
Who owns the most popular ones, who runs their India operations, and what is their reach in the country?
A) TikTok & Helo
- The two social media apps, which are operated by an entity called Bytedance (India) Technology Pvt Ltd, together command more than 170 million active users across the country.
- Notably, India is the largest market for TikTok with more than 611 million downloads, representing nearly a third of the video-platform’s base, followed by China (where it operates under a different brand) and the US.
- However, India is not among the top revenue-generating geographies for the app. In 2018-19, the first full year of the company’s operations in the country, Bytedance India posted revenues of Rs 43.6 crore, and the company targeted revenues of Rs 100 crore for the following year.
- In the US, the app has been downloaded 165 million times, with revenues of $86.5 million (over Rs 650 crore) in 2019. China, with nearly 197 million users, contributed $331 million (around Rs 2,500 crore) during the year, according to Sensor Tower.
B) UC Browser and UCNews
- The Alibaba Group platforms are run by an entity called UCWeb Mobile Pvt Ltd, which has more than 130 million active users. UC Browser, in fact, is the second most used mobile Internet browser in the country only behind Google Chrome, with a market share of around 22%, compared with Chrome’s 70%.
- UCWeb Mobile, which has less than 100 employees in the country, recorded revenues of Rs 226.68 crore from the country in 2018-19, primarily from advertising income, according to filings with the Registrar of Companies (RoC). This is part of Alibaba Group’s digital media and entertainment segment, which clocked consolidated revenues of $3.59 billion for the year ended March 31, 2019.