India bans Chinese apps following bloody border dispute

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Sean MacEntee (Flickr)

apps on iphone screen.

Ivana Venema-Nunez , Reporter

On Monday, India banned 59 Chinese apps, including TikTok,  after a border stand-off in the Himalayas on June 15.

According to an IndiaTimes article published on Tuesday, The Modi government has launched what is the equivalent of a digital strike against China.   Over the last few weeks the Chinese have dug in behind skirmish lines in the high desert of Eastern Ladakh.

After several rounds of meetings at the military and diplomatic level, the Modi government reportedly thought the Chinese would withdraw from the areas they were illegally occupying.  Since they have not, Modi has begun attempts to punishing them economically.

According to the article, the ban is intended to show that the Modi government will not ignore China’s actions against India and the public outcry those actions have created.

Tik-Tok has accumulated 119 million Indian subscribers.  The Chinese company reportedly saw a 90% increase in its subscriber base in 2019 alone, causing many to believe the India ban will slow the app’s future momentum.

Tik-Tok has been installed more than 610 million times in India, according to estimates by the data firm Sensor Tower compared to 165 million times in the United States.  It is the first Chinese internet service to have a truly global fan base, but is quickly falling victim to China’s worsening diplomatic relations around the world, according to a New York Times article published on Tuesday.

Anusmita Dutta, a Tik-Toker, who has more than 350,000 followers expressed that the decision to ban Tik-Tok was disappointing to her.

“Real talent came from this app in India,” Ms. Dutta said. “Seeing it come to a sudden end was obviously disheartening.”

China has previously blocked tech giants such as Google and Facebook, making way for Chinese tech businesses to flourish domestically, but creating a distrust of the Communist Party in Washington and other Western capitals, according to NYT article. 

Huawei makes Chinese smartphones and telecom equipment, they have reportedly been basically excluded by American technology suppliers and have been accused of being a “Trojan horse” for Beijing’s cyber spies, according to the article. 

Dev Khare, a partner at the venture firm Lightspeed India, acknowledged that India’s app ban was a populist, “feel-good” step to some.  He does not, however, see it as an unwarranted act.

“It’s something that China did a long time ago,” Khare said. “If this is what China does to the rest of the world, then the rest of the world has the right to do it to China.”

According to the NYT article, Nikhil Gandhi, the head of TikTok for India, said in a statement that the company had been invited to meet with Indian officials and respond to the decision. He added that TikTok had not shared information on its Indian users with the Chinese government or any other foreign government. 

Tik-Tok’s ease of use made it a widespread platform for everybody and many in India felt empowered.

“It empowered them in a way where you don’t really need to speak English to be a content creator or have a fancy camera.”

Roposo is a different platform that Indian TikTok users have been advised to switch to.

Naveen Tewari, is the founder and chief executive of InMobi, a company in Bengaluru that operates two digital platforms, Glance and Roposo.

“The first thing we’re doing is just to assure the millions of users of TikTok that they have a platform that is homegrown.  They can absolutely come there and continue their entertainment that they always had, probably in a slightly more responsible way, ” Tewari said.

Ankush Bahuguna, a TikTok user in New Delhi who is in his late 20s, said other platforms would be able to absorb Indian TikTok users if it became unavailable, but it would take time for them to develop into something as special as TikTok.

“TikTok is one of the most accepting platforms when it comes to embracing different people,” Bahuguna said. “I’ve never seen a platform celebrate so many male belly dancers or male makeup artists or gay couples. Literally anyone.”

Many have also expressed their concerns about internet censorship.

“In terms of being a singular act of web censorship, it’s impacted more Indians than any before,” said Apar Gupta, executive director of the Internet Freedom Foundation, which promotes digital liberties in India.

Like him, many are concerned that the ban, which the Modi government claims is for national security, could actually be harmful in that it could allow for additional censorship on App users.

“Any kind of public policy response which is premised on grounds of national security needs to emerge from well-defined criteria, which seems to be absent here,” he said.