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Govt may reach out to Apple, Google if delisting of apps is not voluntary

TikTok, the short video app- backed by Beijing-headquartered firm Bytedance, has more than 100 million active users on the platform in India

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Peerzada Abrar & Sai Ishwar  |  Bengaluru 

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The government banned the Chinese apps by invoking 69A of the IT Act, 2000 and the relevant provisions of the Information Technology Rules 2009

The 59 Chinese apps banned by India, including TikTok, might be asked to voluntarily delist from app stores. Experts also said the government would likely direct Google and Apple to remove these apps from their platforms.

Additionally, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) might block these apps from being downloaded and existing downloads will not receive updates. The ban will impact apps that require an active internet connection. However, it is unclear how the government will enforce the ban on apps that do not require an active connection.

“According to Indian data protection laws, if a body corporate is found negligent in implementing and maintaining reasonable security practices resulting in wrongful loss or wrongful gain to any person, then that body corporate may be held liable to pay damages to the person so affected,” said Sumit Kochar, corporate commercial lawyer and transaction advisory partner at Dolce Vita Trustees. “Thus, the data controlled and stored in servers of Chinese entities would be required to comply with the Indian laws even when those entities are not working,” said Kochar.

Salman Waris, managing partner at TechLegis Advocates and Solicitors, said as far as users’ data is concerned, since it is hosted on servers outside India, it shall reside there and “not much can be done about it”.

“This is the reason the government should insist that servers should be located in the country of use,” said Blaise Fernandes, director at foreign policy think-tank Gateway House. “This digital retaliation by the Indian government against Chinese firms may end up making a dent in their valuation by 15-20 per cent,” said Kochar of Dolce Vita Trustees.

Fernandes of Gateway House said the ‘Digital India’ story is on the radar of global investors and anticipated 850 million smartphone users by 2025 is attractive for any developer.

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TikTok has over 100 million active users in India.

According to a Sensor Tower report, India has been the biggest driver of TikTok installs, generating 611 million or 30.3 per cent of the total.

TikTok earned revenue of around Rs 25 crore in the October-December 2019 quarter and was targeting Rs 100 crore in India by September.

Experts said if the stand-off between the countries persists, then these entities might have to wind up their businesses in India.

“Due to their long term presence, they have provided direct and indirect employment to thousands of people in India, and hence, closure of businesses would affect employment,” said Kochar of Dolce Vita Trustees.

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However, Fernandes said the government had focussed on “vanity, strategic and service” oriented apps. He said these apps have a low employment base in India.

The government banned the Chinese apps by invoking 69A of the IT Act, 2000, and the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking of Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009, by citing security threats.

“In the present case, the Indian intelligence agencies had red-flagged usage of over 50 China-linked apps as posing a threat to security,” said Waris of TechLegis.

TikTok on Tuesday said it had not shared information on Indian users with China or other foreign governments.

Tripti Jain, lawyer and researcher at the Internet Democracy Project said the government hadn’t listed the reasons on how the apps threatened security. “Banning of the apps affects the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression of citizens,” said Jain.

First Published: Tue, June 30 2020. 20:19 IST