India to block over 230 betting and loan apps, many with China ties


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India is moving to block 232 apps, some with links to China, that offer betting and loan services in the South Asian market to prevent misuse of the citizens’ data, the state-owned public broadcaster said Sunday.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology is in the process to enforce an emergency order to ban 138 betting and gambling apps and another 94 that provided unauthorized loan services in the interest of protecting the country’s integrity, the broadcaster said.

The ministry’s move was prompted at the direction of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Prasar Bharti added. The apps sought to mislead customers into taking big debts without realizing the terms and there were concerns that they could be used as tools for espionage and propaganda.

Sunday’s step is the latest in a series of government efforts to crack down on shark loan apps and other services that are posing a threat to the nation’s citizens.

The Reserve Bank of India introduced stringent rules for digital lending firms last last year, recommending firms provide more transparency and control to customers.

According to the new rules, lenders are not permitted to increase a customer’s credit limit without obtaining their consent and are required to disclose the annual loan rate in explicit terms. Digital lending apps are also mandated to take prior explicit consent from customers before collecting any data and all such requests should be “need-based.”

India has also blocked over 300 apps with links to China in recent years to protect the nation’s sovereignty and integrity. New Delhi banned Tencent’s Xriver, Garena’s Free Fire, NetEase’s Onmyoji Arena and Astracraft and 50 more apps with apparent links to China early last year. The Indian government also banned dozens of apps including ByteDance’s TikTok, Xiaomi’s Community and Video Call apps and Alibaba Group’s UC Browser and UC News in mid-2020 amid geopolitical tensions between the two neighboring countries.

New Delhi has never specifically said that it’s taking actions on apps from any particular country.

Brendan Carr, the senior Republican on the Federal Communications Commission, however praised India’s blocking of TikTok and other apps last month, saying the country set an “incredibly important precedent” by banning the ByteDance app.

Carr warned that TikTok “operates as a sophisticated surveillance tool” and found that banning the social app was a “natural next step in our efforts to secure communication network.” Carr said he was worried that China could use sensitive and non-public data gleaned from TikTok for “blackmail, espionage, foreign influence campaigns and surveillance.”

“We need to follow India’s lead more broadly to weed out other nefarious apps as well,” he added.

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