Last year social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter were the biggest worry for the Indian Government but this year it is the free mobile messaging apps. Not all messaging apps are creating a problem but the ones that are Chinese made, says TOI.

WeChat Numbers

The rising popularity of Chinese messaging app WeChat from Tencent and UC Browser are creating the biggest worry since they rank in the top ten free Android apps in the Google Play Store. Popularity of these apps have created tensions for the Home Ministry, the Telecom Department and the Cyber Emergency Response Team since the belief is that this might lead to serious possible data security threats.

Though right now there is no concrete evidence and no official communication has been sent to the companies yet. However, Rakesh Singh, a joint secretary who oversees internal security at the Home Ministry said that discussions are on and are not limited to WeChat and UC Browser but broader mobile policy matters and how India would handle such issues. He further added that, “It should not happen that today we take a call on WeChat and tomorrow something else starts.”

The ongoing debate of threat from Chinese companies

The debate is an ongoing one and has intensified post Prism revelations made by the Guardian. The news daily had revealed that the National Security Agency had obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants. It was also reported that the NSA access is part of a previously undisclosed program called Prism, which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats.

Though Indian Government supported Prism, all of a sudden in the month of June, the Indian Intelligence Bureau raised the initial security concerns against Chinese mobile messaging app – WeChat. The intelligence agency told the National Security Advisor that such messaging platforms were raising new cyber threats. At a time when WeChat was aggressively focussing on expansion in India, questions were raised that the Chinese government may be accessing data with the help of Tencent. A move that US has been perfecting for ages and came into limelight courtesy whistle blower Edward Snowden.

Within few days while the Indian counterpart was discussing about WeChat’s fate in the country, Global Times reported that they have received an email from Hu Chunnan, spokesperson of Tencent saying that,

“The messaging platform WeChat, as a product that Tencent provides to its overseas users, has always complied with all relevant local laws and regulations.”

Since then we haven’t heard any news until now that along with WeChat, UC Android browser is also under the scrutiny lenses of the government. At a time when WeChat recently announced that it has over 100 million users outside China dominated by India and Indonesia; researcher StatCounter also said that UC Browser which is owned by UCWeb had surpassed Opera to become the most popular mobile browser in India. Revealing more numbers UC Web said that the market share of UC Browser in India increased from 21.7 percent in July 2012 to nearly 30 percent in July 2013. From December 2012 to June 2013, the number of active users of UC Browser on Android in India increased by 117 percent, UC Web noted.

The government has also got support from the opposition which has asked that instead of panicking, the government must conduct a review of Chinese apps and if required they should be scanned and monitored.

Expanding at 129%, India is now the world’s fastest-growing smartphone market, according to a research firm Canalys so it would be a setback for the Chinese companies if their operations are ceased. Regulating mobile messaging apps which is a new challenge for these apps could be a possibility since in the past it has done the same with Blackberry.

But what leaves me puzzled is that the Indian government is not raising privacy concerns for apps like Facebook and WhatsApp, when it has already been revealed by the Guardian that the US government has been snooping international users’ data with the help of Facebook.

Image courtesy: Bloomberg