Update: In response to the proposed ban, WeChat has said that it has complied with all local laws and regulations, reports Economic Times. The report also quotes an unnamed Indian official who has said that the issue will be reviewed before a final decision is taken on the ban of WeChat and similar services.
Earlier: The Intelligence Bureau (IB) has apparently proposed a ban on Chinese instant messaging platform WeChat, citing concerns over proliferation of such service could cause threat to national security, reports Economic Times. We tried to contact Rahul Razdan, President, ibibo Games & Mobile, on the matter, however we were not able to reach him.
Citing an internal note, the report says that the deputy national security advisor Nehchal Sandhu has asked IB to discuss about the ban with the home ministry and the Department of Telecom. It notes that blocking the website is in accordance with the licensing conditions governing the ISPs could be one of the way to ban the service. Hence, it’s not clear whether the IB wants to ban only the WeChat site or the entire service.
What’s surprising is the ET report doesn’t mention anything about whether the IB found any proliferation on the service for it be a threat to national security. It’s also surprising as to why the IB has suggested direct ban to the service instead of asking for more freedom to monitor the service in the country.
Remember that a report by Tech In Asia indicates that WeChat already censors sensitive words shared in the app indicating that the company processes and monitors user’s shared data including chat messages. This may have not gone well with many governments considering China’s rather tarnished image over controlling data shared within and out the country. However, Tencent hopes to make WeChat into a global product and such bans could hamper its growth.
Tencent’s instant messaging service WeChat entered India through a partnership with ibibo (MIH India) in May 2012 where ibibo helps distribute and market the app in the Indian market. The company had recently announced that it has crossed 300 million users worldwide. The company has also spent quite a bit of money in advertising the service in the country. It recently signed a contract with Bollywood actors Parineeti Chopra and Varun Dhawan as brand ambassadors.
What About Other Players? Another question that arises is what keeps the government from banning other foreign messaging apps such as WhatsApp, and Viber among others which has been quite popular in the country. Earlier today, we had reported that the various random websites were blocked by some ISPs without informing the website operators.
BlackBerry Interception: Remember that following government recommendations, BlackBerry had set up a server in Mumbai last year in April, to provide security agencies access to its BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) services. In February 2013, a government panel had recommended that BlackBerry should provide access to PIN details of all its handsets across the globe, in order to allow Indian Intelligence agencies in the country to track messages sent between Indian subscribers and Foreign subscribers.