NEW DELHI (AP) – Indian TikTok users woke up Tuesday with a message from the popular short video app that their data would be transferred to an Irish subsidiary, responding to India’s ban on dozens of Chinese apps amid a military deadlock between the two countries.
The quick fix showed that the ban was largely symbolic because the apps cannot be automatically erased from devices on which they have already been downloaded, and it’s in 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 Nikhil Pahwa, a digital rights activist.
Indian protesters call for a boycott of Chinese goods since the June 15 confrontation in the remote Karakoram border region.
Last Monday, the government said it banned 59 apps in Chinese hands, including TikTok, which is operated by Chinese internet company Bytedance. It raised privacy issues that he said threatened India’s sovereignty and security.
The banned apps include some that allow TikTok users to add visual effects and music to their messages, as well as dating apps, privacy apps and multiplayer games.
The Indian Ministry of Information Technology has issued a statement saying that it has received reports that mobile apps “steal and secretly transmit user data”.
The collection of such data and its extraction and profiling by elements hostile to India is “a matter of very deep and immediate concern that requires emergency action,” the statement said.
TikTok’s countermovement, 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 Hindu idols. Mutual trade grew from $ 3 billion in 2000 to $ 95 billion in 2018, according to Indian government data, with the balance strongly favoring China.
“There is too much 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 deaths of the soldiers forced the Indian government to retaliate, Acharya said.
The ban on Chinese apps, signed by India’s powerful interior minister, Amit Shah, asked telephone companies to block applications on Tuesday, as the top army officers from India and China would meet for the third time to try to resolve tensions. suppress and reduce. military build-up in the disputed border area.
Proponents of the ban hailed it as a way of curtailing China’s growing influence, while others complained about the potential job losses at the Indian offices of the app companies. Some beat it as a violation of freedom of expression.
TikTok “continues to comply with all data privacy and security requirements under Indian law and has not shared any information from our users in India with any foreign government, including the Chinese government,” said Indian company chief Nikhil Gandhi in a statement. statement.
This isn’t the first time TikTok has been banned in India – the Madras High Court in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu banned it last year due to concerns over hate speech, but quickly left its command.
Chinese-owned apps have found a fast-growing market in India, with some companies creating India-specific apps that have grown in popularity.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has used the country’s 500 million internet users – second only to China – as a lure to get tech giants, including Twitter, to locate Indians’ data. It is expected to sponsor data localization legislation later this year.
Among the list of newly banned apps, Alibaba’s UC Browser, Meitu’s Beauty Plus camera app and Bigo’s Likee video editing app are among the top 100 most downloaded apps in India, according to app intelligence company App Annie.
India is one of the largest markets of TikTok. As of April, 30% of TikTok’s 2 billion downloads were from India, according to app data analysis company Sensor Tower.
Bytedance also runs the now-banned Helo social networking app, which is made for the Indian market and has over 50 million users.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China was very concerned about the Indian movement and was looking for more information. The Indian government has a responsibility to uphold the legitimate rights of foreign investors, while Chinese companies must comply with local laws, he said.
The clash in Karakoram fueled already-growing anti-Chinese sentiment during the coronavirus pandemic, which emerged in China in December. India is the fourth most affected, with nearly 570,000 cases and over 16,000 deaths. In response to the crisis, a movement has emerged to promote India as an alternative to China for Western markets and to avoid Chinese goods.
TikTok Tried to Grow Goodwill: In April, it said on Twitter that it donated 30 crore rupees (about $ 40 million) to PM Cares, a fund set up by Modi’s office to fight the corona virus.
The contradictions pose risks for India: a wider boycott could backfire if China retaliated by banning the export of raw materials used by the Indian pharmaceutical industry. So far this has not been the case.
In the longer term, Chinese companies may be avoiding investments in India’s technology sector and Indian startups will be reluctant to accept Chinese investments for fear of repercussions, said Shaun Rein, general manager of market research firm China Market Research Group.
“Chinese investors will be very wary of investing in India. They will fear they will invest billions of dollars in the country and either boycott Indian consumers and protest against them, or the government will simply ban them because they are supported by Chinese, ”Rein said.
Associated Press writers Penny Yi Wang in Bangkok, Joe McDonald in Beijing and Zen Soo in Hong Kong contributed to this report.
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