India’s recent ban of dozens of Chinese mobile apps gives local start-ups some leeway to develop products to replace the affected services, but the country’s existing data protection laws are inadequate, the legal director for the Software Freedom Law Center said Monday.
The Indian government banned 59 Chinese apps in late June, citing security concerns. That move was received favorably by some local start-ups that have struggled to carve out space in a highly competitive landscape against global tech giants.
“This ban has given a little bit of a longer runway to the Indian homegrown markets and the apps, which are developed in the market itself, considering TikTok was so popular,” Mishi Choudhary said on CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia.”
“But, again, it only gives them leeway for a little while because they will also have to come up with products which have a user interface or the ease of usability just like the apps they would like to replace,” she added.
India lacks data protection laws
Critics have raised concerns over the personal information collected by apps that are made by both international and domestic companies in India.
Choudhary explained that the country does not even have a basic data protection bill yet. India does have the Information Technology Act — passed in 2000 by parliament and amended in 2008 — which governs the digital space.
“It does not adequately protect either the people, all the data of the people, and does not lay out a framework, which is required, whether you’re an American app, you’re a Chinese app, or you’re an Indian app and lays down the rules and the regulations about it,” Choudhary said about the existing law.
India currently has a comprehensive personal data protection bill that is under discussion in a joint parliamentary committee, which is said to be similar to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation. If it is passed in parliament, it will set the rules on how personal data is processed, stored, and used; it will also spell out what people’s rights would be.
“Nothing has happened so far and no movement has been made in terms of where the data protection bill stands,” Choudhary said, adding in its absence, apps have very few rules in place to comply with and that people are “relying on our own ingenuity about protecting our own data.”
Reuters reported last week that a draft report seen by the news wire recommended India should set up a data regulator and require firms to reveal how they collect and store non-personal data.
India’s efforts to establish regulatory practices are tied to how attractive the market is for global tech companies which have poured billions of dollars in investment and dominate areas like messaging, e-commerce, social networks and video sharing. For starters, a majority of India’s 1.3 billion people are still not using smartphones while many of the country’s young population are technologically savvy.
The country is “a very, very attractive place,” Choudhary said. “That is why we’ve seen immense amounts of investments and partnerships also growing in India.”