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59 Chinese apps are out; where do Indian users go now?

Mala Bhargava | Updated on June 30, 2020 Published on June 30, 2020

Government points to security and privacy concerns and even an outright threat to India’s sovereignty as the reason for the ban.

India’s TikTok enthusiasts are going to have to find some other form of entertainment. Even if users find the much loved video-sharing app still working on their phones, ISPs can be asked to block it, along with the 58 other Chinese apps the Indian government has banned for use in the country, pointing to security and privacy concerns and even an outright threat to India’s sovereignty as the reason.

The long list of apps that will presumably no longer be available on the Play Store or will not function on users’ devices represents a wide spectrum, from shopping apps like Club Factory and Shein to phone management tools like virus cleaners and battery savers, to messengers like WeChat and browsers like UC Browser. TikTok is no longer to be found on either Google Play or Apple Store, though it still works for those who already had it on their phones and the company is being invited for talks with the government to ‘respond and submit clarifications’ — though on what specifically is not clear. TikTok has no comments on how long the app will continue to work on devices that have it downloaded.

Present by default

Smartphones, most of which are either Chinese or have Chinese components or are manufactured in China, typically come with a host of pre-loaded apps, some of which are from the list of banned ones. UC Browser is inevitable on budget phones, as is CamScanner.

Whether users can offload these from their devices depends entirely on whether the phone manufacturer sets it up to be deletable. If not, the only recourse is to disable these apps. Long-press on the app’s icon and tap on App Info. This will lead to settings which will show a Disable option. Whether this really puts a stop to that app siphoning off data and feeding it to the Chinese is something only security experts can tell us.

In fact, what of the user data China already has? “To enforce the ban, presumably the government will block users from accessing these applications. But it will be interesting to see how it plans to deal with the existing user data on these applications,” says Tanu Banerjee, Partner, Induslaw, an Indian law firm advising clients worldwide on transactions, disputes and resolutions.

“Some of the apps that are banned under the order have been under the regulatory radar even in the past. For example, apart from data privacy issues, the e-commerce app Shein had to scale down their business in India earlier, as several issues were identified in their operations under the Indian foreign trade policy and customs.”

It isn’t just India that has been skittish about a possible cyber threat from China. Indeed, US President Donald Trump has cited similar security concerns over Huawei, claiming the company, with its dominance in the 5G networks space, seriously compromises homeland security in the US.

“India’s concerns aren’t overblown, they are valid,” Christopher Ahlberg, CEO of Recorded Future, a cybersecurity company in Massachusetts, told the New York Times. “China would not be above using these apps for large-scale data collection,” he said.

Alternative avenues

Meanwhile, TikTok’s nearly 200 million Indian users and those of the other 58 apps do have viable alternatives to choose from, though it must be said that being certain that there are no Chinese connections on other apps is no easy matter. All the same, Made-in-India options are only too eager to take the place of the Chinese favourites.

Sumit Ghosh, co-founder and Chief Product Officer, Chinagri, a TikTok alternative, said: “For a very long time TikTok has been spying on users and sending back the data to China. We are happy that this step has been finally taken. We would like to welcome all the users of TikTok to come and try our Chingari, which is a 100 per cent India grown app, and made for the passionate Indians.”

Varun Saxena, founder, Bolo Indya, another TikTok rival, says much the same thing: “As the most loved Indian short videos app that is having users spend more than 39 minutes per day on it before the ban on Chinese apps, we invite all the TikTok stars from India to be the part of the fast growing Bolo Indya community. We are pleased to have the opportunity to positively impact the lives of millions of Tiktok stars and provide them the platform to build on their social capital and convert it to financial independence.” Spokesmen for the lifestyle community commerce app Trell claims to have had more than a million downloads since India banned the 59 Chinese apps.

Malware alert

A number of the apps on the don’t-use list have long been associated with malware. DU Battery Saver and other DU apps are not really essential to devices that now have battery saving options built into the system. In the present times, batteries are large enough to barely require saving in any case and also can be topped up in a mere 30 minutes, a better alternative to using suspicious apps. Virus cleaners should always be from the top well-known brands such as McAfee and Norton. UC Browser and UC News have typically tacked and spammed users with constant notifications and there is no shortage of alternatives to these.

Selfie apps in particular have a field day in India, which is certified selfie territory. Using a bit of social engineering to lure users who can’t resist the idea of looking better in photographs, they have a large user base. These have always been known to be unsafe but almost all smartphones today have beauty features and filters on-device in the camera app. From widening the eyes to whitening the skin, from narrowing the face to putting a hint of pink on the lips, these features can flatter enough for most users’ needs. In addition, regular photo editing apps offer filters that beautify adequately. Those looking for more can try the app B612 Camera, replete with filters and effects.

For file sharing apps, users will bump into a size limit with many known apps like Dropbox. But platforms that can be tried out are Snapdrop.net and fromsmash.com.

For serious users of CamScanner, Microsoft’s Office Lens is a good alternative. In existence since 2015, it is by far safer. There is also Adobe Scan, which is for formal and frequent scanning needs.

There is little shortage of shopping, sharing or messaging apps for Indian users to use. Not only will users easily find their way to these, the apps will find their way to the users in the coming few days.

Published on June 30, 2020
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