India’s government on Sunday issued an order to ban more than 200 foreign-based apps that offer illegal gambling and loan services, most of which have ties to China, in a move to protect the country’s sovereignty.
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology launched the process to ban 138 gambling apps and 94 loan lending apps that allegedly contain materials prejudicial to India’s sovereignty, based on multiple media reports.
Authorities said these apps were operated from “offshore entities, including Chinese,” which posed a threat to India’s “economic stability,” local media WION reported, citing an official familiar with the matter.
The ministry has yet to reveal the names of the blocked apps.
The ban was prompted by the Home Affairs Ministry, which investigated the matter after reports of suicides related to the apps. It also received complaints from users claiming they were harassed after failing to repay the loans they obtained from the apps.
Some of these apps were operated by Chinese nationals who hired Indians as their company directors, and the annual interest rates of each loan were raised to 3,000 percent, according to reports.
Debtors who failed to repay their loans reported receiving lewd messages and being threatened by app representatives that their photos would be altered and circulated to their contacts.
Authorities also found that users installed these apps through third-party links or websites because they were not available for download on smartphones.
The ban followed the Reserve Bank of India’s new regulation last year requiring digital lenders to provide full transparency and control to customers when offering products via digital platforms.
India Taking Cybersecurity ‘More Seriously’
India started banning Chinese apps after a June 2020 bloody skirmish with Chinese forces in the disputed Himalayan border region in which 20 Indian soldiers died. Since then, the country has banned 267 applications including TikTok, Baidu, and WeChat Work.
In February last year, the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs ordered to ban 54 Chinese mobile applications that it claimed could collect sensitive user data through phone cameras and microphones for espionage and surveillance activities.
These apps range from mobile games to video chats and selfie camera apps from Chinese companies such as Tencent, Alibaba, and NetEase. Some of the apps are clones or rebrands of apps banned in previous orders, according to local media reports.
The most popular app banned by the order is Free Fire, a battle royale shooter game owned by Singapore-based gaming giant Sea. The company’s largest shareholder is Chinese tech giant Tencent.
“India is now taking cybersecurity more seriously because of the increasing digitization of the economy and the threat such Chinese apps, as well as Chinese telecom equipment, pose,” Pathikrit Payne, a New Delhi-based research consultant in geopolitical and strategic affairs, told The Epoch Times last year.
India’s concerns over security risks posed by Chinese technology echo that of U.S. officials and experts who have warned that such applications could be used by China’s ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for spying, citing laws in the country that compel firms to cooperate with intelligence agencies when requested to do so.
Abhishek Darbey, a research associate at New Delhi-based think tank the Centre for China Analysis and Strategy, told The Epoch Times that many of the apps that the Indian government has banned since 2020 were relaunched or renamed for the Indian market under different companies.
He pointed to the Chinese connection in the banned Free Fire gaming app owned by Sea. The company was founded in Singapore by Chinese-born founders who later became Singaporean citizens.
While some may not be aware of this connection, Free Fire’s case “suggests that China uses all possible loopholes to penetrate the Indian market because of its huge consumer population.”
The presence of Chinese apps in India provides the CCP with an advantage, allowing it to explore the Indian market and simultaneously keep the Indian population exposed to espionage, while the Chinese market remains closed to foreign mobile apps, according to Darbey.
“China doesn’t entertain foreign social media applications or any other mobile app in their land, and they do this in order to keep themselves safer against any form of surveillance or espionage activities,” he said.
Venus Upadhayaya contributed to this report.