Instead of banning Chinese apps at frequent intervals by invoking Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, analysts feel it would be better for the government to lay down a law that all such existing apps can only be allowed to function if they store data within the country. The basic pretext of banning these apps is the allegation that they surreptitiously transmit users’ data in an unauthorised manner to servers that have locations outside India. If the servers are made to be located within India by law, the problem would be over and the government would not be seen to be invoking Section 69A so frequently and open itself to charges of using the law indiscriminately, analysts feel.
So that domestic data storage norms are not seen to be targeting only a specific country and also not upsetting big players like Facebook, Google or WhatsApp, the government could just put in a guideline that apps of companies that are based in countries which share land border with India need to store data in domestic servers and such data cannot go outside the country.
Such a provision would make functioning of Chinese apps difficult in the country and if they want to be present in the Indian market, they would have to meet these guidelines right from the beginning.
At the moment, the government does not have any information regarding how many Chinese apps are available to be downloaded by consumers within the country. This is quite apparent from the way it has been banning Chinese apps ever since border tensions with China erupted.
For instance, on September 2 the government banned 118 Chinese mobile apps, including popular gaming platform PUBG as well as Baidu, which is China’s largest search engine provider. This was the third instance of it banning Chinese apps since the Indo-China border skirmish erupted. The government had first banned 59 apps, including TikTok, WeChat, etc, on June 29, and followed it up by banning another set of 47 apps in July, which were proxies of the earlier banned apps.
Though Section 69A of the Information Technology Act gives the government blanket powers to block apps/contents which are seen to be engaged in activities prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of the country, its defence, security of state and public order, nevertheless it gives rise to a perception that the law is being used indiscriminately.
The pattern being followed to ban the apps is that the government states that it has received several complaints and reports about misuse of some mobile apps available on Android and iOS platforms for surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorised manner to servers that have locations outside India. It is pointed out that 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. Analysts feel that such issues can be better handled once and for all if domestic data storage for such firms is made a norm.