India banned 54 mobile apps of Chinese origin on February 15, including Singapore-based Sea Ltd’s ‘Free Fire’ mobile game. India has cited security concerns behind the latest ban, as per government sources, who sought anonymity. This latest development comes amidst ongoing tension between the two neighbours who are involved in a prolonged border dispute since 2020 along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). India shares a 3,400 kms long border with China, stretching from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh.
India’s ban list initially started off with 59 Chinese apps including TikTok, with the total now reaching over 321 apps. The government blocked 59 apps in June 2020, followed by a ban on 47 related/cloning apps in August 2020. 118 apps were blocked in September 2020, and another 43 apps in November 2020. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology of India received the request to block 54 apps from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) under the emergency provision envisaged in Section 69(A) of the IT Act. As per the MHA’s report, these apps are either a cloned version or have similar functionality. The apps are allegedly a threat to privacy and security as they obtain various critical permissions and collect sensitive user data.
The IT ministry said in a statement, “These collected real-time data are being misused and transmitted to servers located in a hostile country. This will enable them to compile huge personal data to mine, collate, analyse and profile by the elements who are hostile to the sovereignty and integrity of India and for activities detrimental to national security.”
“In addition, there are other serious concerns as some of these apps can carry out espionage and surveillance activities via camera/mic, accessing fine location (GPS) and do malicious network activity similar to previously blocked apps,” it added.
Consumer Internet firm Sea Ltd, in which Chinese gaming giant Tencent holds an 18.7 percent stake, released a statement on Tuesday, saying that it complies with Indian laws and does not transfer or store any data of the country’s users in China. Reuters also cited an anonymous source that attended Sea’s annual general meeting on February 14, where the company assured its shareholders that it was “working through it” (the ban). Sea’s stock sank about 19 percent in New York on Monday, considered to be its steepest decline on record. The apps banned by India’s IT ministry include those belonging to large China tech firms such as Tencent, Alibaba and NetEase.
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According to Bloomberg Intelligence, “India’s banning of 54 apps it says are of Chinese origin, including Garena’s marquee game ‘Free Fire’, looks like doing little damage to parent Sea Ltd given its small India revenue exposure. The country accounted for 2.6 percent of Sea’s 2021 mobile-game net sales, according to Sensor Tower data. Krafton managed to grow its worldwide mobile gaming sales in 2021 even though India banned its flagship PUBG game in 2020; the company launched a new game to get around the prohibition on Chinese-made apps.”
Other applications included in the blocked list are AppLock, Beauty Camera: Sweet Selfie HD, Beauty Camera – Selfie Camera, CamCard for SalesForce Ent, Dual Space Lite, Equalizer & Bass Booster, Isoland 2: Ashes of Time Lite, Onmyoji Arena, Onmyoji Chess, Tencent Xriver, and Viva Video Editor.