India on Wednesday banned 118 Chinese apps, including versions of Tencent Holdings Ltd’s (騰訊) popular game PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), search engine leader Baidu Inc and online payments giant Ant Group Co’s (螞蟻集團) Alipay (支付寶), as tensions escalated on the nations’ disputed border.
The apps are “prejudicial to [the] sovereignty and integrity of India,” as well as “security and public order,” the Indian Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said in a statement.
“This move will safeguard the interests” of Indian mobile and Internet users, it said.
The late evening ban came as India upped the ante in its feud with China after multiple rounds of high-level military talks failed to end the months-long standoff. Indian soldiers claimed strategic outposts, officials with knowledge of the matter said, while the Indian Ministry of Defense said its military was able to stop a push by Chinese troops to breach existing agreements and claim more ground late on Saturday.
“With increasing border tensions, the repeated bans show that India fears data breaches and a real security threat from these apps,” said Anil Kumar, chief executive officer of Bengaluru-headquartered RedSeer Management Consulting Pvt. “The government wants to punish China by pushing back its technology giants.”
Over June and July, India had banned more than 100 Chinese apps, including TikTok, the much-downloaded short video app from ByteDance Inc (字節跳動), and Alibaba Group Holding’s (阿里巴巴) mobile browser, UC Browser.
The move followed mid-June border skirmishes, which killed 20 Indian soldiers and an undisclosed number of Chinese troops.
Since then, India has also changed rules to limit Chinese investments in Indian companies and tightened scrutiny for visas for Chinese businesspeople, academics, industry experts and advocacy groups.
China’s Huawei Technologies Co (華為) and ZTE Corp (中興) are set to be kept out of India’s plans to roll out its 5G networks, people familiar with the matter said last month.
The latest ban’s biggest impact would be felt on the tens of millions of fans of PUBG, which had seen its user numbers rocket in India as COVID-19 lockdowns boosted gaming.
In the Hunger Games-style competition, 100 players face off with automatic weapons until there is only one left standing. Tencent introduced a stripped-down mobile version of the death match, making it among the most popular smartphone games in the world, amassing fans in countries including the US and Russia.
India accounts for more than a quarter of PUBG Mobile’s lifetime installs, though revenues from the country are still minuscule, data from research firm Sensor Tower showed.
Although India is still a small market for these apps by revenues, it offered a large future opportunity, Kumar said.
India has received complaints about the apps “stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorized manner to servers which have locations outside India,” the government said in its statement.
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