Update on July 2 (3:23 pm): All defence personnel have been “advised” to delete the 59 apps and refrain from using them, as per a June 30 cybersecurity advisory that Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar tweeted.

Update on June 30: TikTok and Helo, among the 59 ‘Chinese’ apps banned by the Indian government late Monday are no longer available on Apple and Google’s app stores. Both the apps went missing from Apple App Store at around 1:30 am on June 30, while they vanished from Google Play Store this morning. TikTok’s India Head, Nikhil Gandhi, in a statement said that they have been invited to meet with concerned government stakeholders to respond and submit clarifications. He maintained that TikTok doesn’t share personal information of Indians with any foreign government, including China. TikTok’s statement in full:

“The Government of India has issued an interim order for the blocking of 59 apps, including TikTok and we are in the process of complying with it. We have been invited to meet with concerned government stakeholders for an opportunity to respond and submit clarifications. TikTok continues to comply with all data privacy and security requirements under Indian law and have not shared any information of our users in India with any foreign government, including the Chinese Government. Further if we are requested to in the future we would not do so. We place the highest importance on user privacy and integrity.

TikTok has democratized the internet by making it available in 14 Indian languages, with hundreds of millions of users, artists, story-tellers, educators and performers depending on it for their livelihood, many of whom are first time internet users.” – Nikhil Gandhi, Head of TikTok, India

Earlier on June 29: The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology late Monday night decided to block 59 apps, all from Chinese companies — including TikTok, Shein, Clash of Kings, Shareit — based on information that these apps are “engaged in activities which [are] prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order”. The blocking order has been issued under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act.  The ban comes amid heightened tensions between India and China. The ban applies to both “mobile and non-mobile internet enabled devices,” suggesting that access to these app’s desktop clients will also potentially be blocked. We have reached out to TikTok for comment.

At the moment it isn’t clear if the government will direct telecom operators and ISPs to block access to these apps, or if it’ll also ask Apple and Google to remove these apps from their respective app stores. TikTok was functioning on iOS over a BSNL network at the time of publication. Vigo Video, an app developed by TikTok parent Bytedance is also on the list, even though the company had decided to shut it down by October.

The Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre, under the Ministry of Home Affairs has also sent an exhaustive recommendation for blocking these malicious apps, MEITY said in a statement. It also claimed to have received “many representations raising concerns from “citizens” regarding alleged security and privacy risks of these apps. The Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-IN) also received similar  representations from citizens, per the statement.

“There have been similar bipartisan concerns, flagged by various public representatives, both outside and inside the Parliament of India. There has been a strong chorus in the public space to take strict action against Apps that harm India’s sovereignty as well as the privacy of our citizen,” the statement said.

“There have been raging concerns on aspects relating to data security and safeguarding the privacy of 130 crore Indians. It has been noted recently that such concerns also pose a threat to sovereignty and security of our country. The Ministry of Information Technology has received many complaints from various sources including several reports about misuse of some mobile apps available on Android and iOS platforms for stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorized manner to servers which have locations outside India,” MEITY said.

“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,” it added.

TikTok, Shareit, UC Browser among 59 apps banned by MEITY

The 59 apps that have been banned by MEITY:

  1. TikTok
  2. Shareit
  3. Kwai
  4. UC Browser
  5. Baidu map
  6. Shein
  7. Clash of Kings
  8. DU battery saver
  9. Helo
  10. Likee
  11. YouCam makeup
  12. Mi Community
  13. CM Growers
  14. Virus Cleaner
  15. APUS Browser
  16. ROMWE
  17. Club Factory
  18. Newsdog
  19. Beutry Plus
  20. WeChat
  21. UC News
  22. QQ Mail
  23. Weibo
  24. Xender
  25. QQ Music
  26. QQ Newsfeed
  27. Bigo Live
  28. SelfieCity
  29. Mail Master
  30. Parallel Space
  31. Mi Video Call – Xiaomi
  32. WeSync
  33. ES File Explorer
  34. Viva Video – QU Video Inc
  35. Meitu
  36. Vigo Video
  37. New Video Status
  38. DU Recorder
  39. Vault- Hide
  40. Cache Cleaner DU App studio
  41. DU Cleaner
  42. DU Browser
  43. Hago Play With New Friends
  44. Cam Scanner
  45. Clean Master – Cheetah Mobile
  46. Wonder Camera
  47. Photo Wonder
  48. QQ Player
  49. We Meet
  50. Sweet Selfie
  51. Baidu Translate
  52. Vmate
  53. QQ International
  54. QQ Security Center
  55. QQ Launcher
  56. U Video
  57. V fly Status Video
  58. Mobile Legends
  59. DU Privacy

MediaNama’s take (by Nikhil Pahwa): This is, in all likelihood, the first time that the Indian govt has actually announced a ban on apps under Section 69A of the IT Act. It appears that the decision to ban the apps is largely a political one. There hasn’t been any significant change to the way that these apps work in the last 3 months, and the announcement, looks like has been made to send a signal to China.

TikTok’s repeated run-ins with authorities in India

TikTok, one of the apps directed to be banned, is among the most popular apps in the world, and has over 200 million users in India. However, it has drawn severe criticism from authorities in India, where it was even banned for some time for potentially exposing children to sexual predators:

  • Last month, TikTok came under fire in India after a video on its platform went viral for allegedly promoting acid attacks on women. It had to delete the account of the creator and has been asked to submit an action taken report to the National Commission for Women.
  • In April 2019, TikTok was banned in India for a week by the Madras High Court, which said it was spreading pornography, potentially exposing children to sexual predators, and adversely impacting its the mental health of its users. Since then, lawmakers from across the political spectrum and nationalist trade organisations such as the Swadeshi Jagran Manch have talked about TikTok’s alleged close relationship with the Chinese government, and some have repeatedly called for banning the platform.

Also read: Why they want TikTok banned in India