AliExpress: India continues to ban China apps amid standoff

Chinese e-commerce platform AliExpress is the latest casualty in yet another Indian ban on Chinese mobile apps.

India’s government has banned 43 more Chinese apps citing cyber security concerns, taking the total to 220. 

The move comes even as the two countries hold talks to ease border tensions, sparked by fighting in June that left 20 Indian soldiers dead. 

India’s government said the apps were engaged in activities that hurt India’s “sovereignty and integrity”. 

The spokesperson for the Chinese embassy has described the “repeated use” of national security concerns as an “excuse”, adding that they “hoped” for a “fair, impartial and non-discriminatory business environment”.

Experts also say the ban is more a response to China than a reflection of data or privacy concerns. 

“It’s been clear that New Delhi has been looking around for every single app with a Chinese connection and banning it to keep driving home a message to China,” says technology writer Prasanto K Roy. 

“Most of them are irrelevant, tiny, and with negligible usage: the earlier bans were aimed at TikTok, WeChat and Baidu, and this time Ali Express is a key target.”

He adds that although “data privacy concerns existed for some Chinese and other apps for years”, there had been no bans before June 2020.

The two nuclear-armed neighbours had been deploying troops along their border since April but the situation escalated in June, when a savage brawl broke out in the Galwan river valley in Ladakh, a disputed Himalayan border region. 

Twenty Indian troops died without a single shot being fired. India said both sides suffered casualties, but China is yet to confirm its number of dead or injured.

The countries have since begun talks and even agreed to start disengaging despite rhetoric that was increasingly hostile. It’s unclear how the latest ban will affect ongoing talks. 

Workers ride on the back of a truck along Pangong Lake road in northern India's Ladakh region
image captionLadakh, a high altitude cold desert, is a source of dispute between India and China

But experts such as Mr Roy say there are other concerns too. 

“What’s worrying is falling back on “national security and threats to sovereignty” for so many different actions, whether against student protests or app bans,” he says, referring to a slew of controversial arrests of activists and critics of the government in the last two years.”

He says the lack of privacy laws in India is “also worrying”, especially three years after a landmark Supreme Court judgment that upheld privacy as a fundamental right. 

“Too many apps, Indian as well as American, collect way more data and permissions than they need to,” he adds.

“A more selective approach to this would have been picking out top potential offenders, spelling out SOPs [rules] for data disclosure, following a one-strike-and-you’re-out [policy] for violations, defining a clear period for the ban and allowing firms to submit compliance reports on data privacy.”

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