The Indian government has banned 59 Chinese apps – including the widely popular video platform, TikTok – citing concerns about privacy and data security.
In a statement on Monday, the Indian Ministry of Information Technology said it had received complaints about apps “stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data” outside of India.
“The compilation of these data, its mining and profiling by elements hostile to national security and defence of India, which ultimately impinges upon the sovereignty and integrity of India, is a matter of very deep and immediate concern which requires emergency measures,” the IT Ministry said.
“This move will safeguard the interests of Indian mobile and internet users. This decision is a targeted move to ensure safety and sovereignty of Indian cyberspace.”
Chinese social media apps WeChat and Weibo were on the banned list along with popular mobile games, media players, and camera apps.
China responded by saying it was “seriously concerned” by the actions of the Indian government.
“India's measure, selectively and discriminatorily aims at certain Chinese apps on ambiguous and far-fetched grounds, runs against fair and transparent procedure requirements, abuses national security exceptions, and suspects of violating the WTO rules,” the Chinese Embassy said in a statement.
“It also goes against the general trend of international trade and E-commerce, and is not conducive to consumer interests and the market competition in India.”
China’s own internet censorship policy has blocked a massive list of popular non-Chinese websites and apps.
India’s decision comes at a time of heightened tensions between the neighbouring nations.
Last month, 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a skirmish between forces on the border between the two countries.
The ban puts a dent in TikTok’s growth as it has now been locked out of its biggest market.
With a focus on short, catchy videos and sing-along style user-generated content, the app has seen massive popularity in the past 12 months and was one of the most downloaded free apps in 2019.
Last year, TikTok was reportedly downloaded some 466 million times on Indian phones – but that has all come to a halt.
Shortly after the ban was announced, TikTok apps stopped working in India.
The company said it was working with Indian government officials on how to respond to the ban.
“TikTok continues to comply with all data privacy and security requirements under Indian law and has not shared any information of our users in India with any foreign government, including the Chinese government,” said head of TikTok India, Nikhil Gandhi.
“We place the highest importance on user privacy and integrity.”
The Indian government is not the only party concerned with data privacy on TikTok.
Developers Talal Haj Bakry and Tommy Mysk uncovered earlier this year that TikTok – and a huge number of other news, games, and social media apps – was secretly accessing clipboard data on iPhones.
TikTok said the now-defunct feature was originally designed to stop spammers and it did not store any of the data unwittingly given up by its users.
Overnight on Wednesday, one of the Twitter pages claiming to be from resurfaced hacker group, Anonymous, told its six million followers to “delete TikTok now”.
“If you know someone that is using it, explain to them it is essentially malware operated by the Chinese government running a massive spying operation,” the Anonymous twitter page said.
It cited a Reddit post from someone who claimed to have reverse engineered the TikTok app and found the app collects user information about device hardware, other apps the user has installed, and network information.
TikTok has previously been slammed for its suppressing posts from users it decided were too “ugly”.