Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s government has blocked 59 mobile apps, accusing them of stealing user information. All of these apps are linked with Chinese companies in some way and the move is seen in the perspective of the long-standing Sinophobic propaganda in India, which reached a hysteric magnitude after 20 Indian soldiers were killed in eastern Ladakh on June 15th during a skirmish with Chinese soldiers. Though the mainstream press has been propagating that the government has “banned” these apps, the government’s press release clearly says that it has blocked them, which means the ISPs won’t allow access to these apps, restricting their downloads. Also, a press release signed by Nikhil Gandhi, the India head of famous social media app TikTok, categorically stated the blocking order as “interim” and signalled that the same can be withdrawn by the government officials as they have asked the companies to explain their position on data sharing and privacy concerns of their users.
“The Ministry of Information Technology, invoking it’s power under section 69A of the Information Technology Act read with the relevant provisions of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking of Access of Information by Public) Rules 2009 and in view of the emergent nature of threats has decided to block 59 apps ( see Appendix) since in view of information available they are engaged in activities which is prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order.” (sic) the Government of India’s Press Information Bureau stated at 8.47pm, Monday, June 29th. However, until the afternoon of June 30th, there was no notification issued by the ministry on its website.
Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been fuelling Sinophobic jingoism in India since years despite the prime minister sharing a cordial relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The American influence and sponsorship behind India’s new wave of Sinophobia have been explicitly visible since the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic. American President Donald Trump has been blaming China for the spread of Coronavirus, refuting the facts that speak otherwise, which the Indian government has been unofficially endorsing.
Since April 2020, there has been a constant demand from the ruling party’s affiliates to ban Chinese apps and websites. Starting with remote meeting app Zoom Meeting, many other apps with Chinese links were blamed of stealing private information of their users, while the government went far ahead defending its obscure Aarogya Setu app, which violated the privacy of its users and constantly shared their details with the government agencies. After the skirmish at Galowan valley in eastern Ladakh between Indian and Chinese soldiers in May and June, the Sinophobic propaganda reached a peak, and feral hysteric mob supported by the BJP and other right-wing parties affiliated with the US imperialistic camp started destroying Chinese goods and vandalising stores that sell Chinese products.
Though such optics of anti-China hysteria couldn’t scare the Chinese or even make them worried, as the trade imbalance between India and China was $58.04 bn in 2018 and between January and November 2019, the trade imbalance was nearly $51.68bn. Any amount of hysteric cacophony and vandalism won’t change the equation. The much-hyped “Atmanirbhar Bharat” (self-reliant India) campaign by Modi is a euphoria that can captivate the Indian elites and middle class, the hardcore supporters of the prime minister, but can’t make any real difference felt, because there is no material basis for the programme’s success as India lacks capital and technical prowess to become a self-sufficient manufacturing economy and because its “self-reliance” is directly dependent on incoming foreign capital, technology and leadership.
Even though Modi and his sycophants will try to unofficially show this blocking, peddled as a ban, as a major retaliatory step against China to titillate the BJP’s hyper-nationalist upper-caste supporters, in reality, this decision was long pending one and is taken to appease the Trump regime. As the US stands to benefit from the Sino-Indian conflict in the Himalayas because of India’s big-ticket military hardware deals with its omnipotent military-industrial complex, which has a strong influence on the White House, the Pentagon, Langley and Wall Street, it’s evident that this so-called “digital strike” will also benefit the Silicon Valley-based American software corporations.
In the technology world, it’s a well-known fact that those who own the right data of the right people at the right point in time, often make a lot of money. It’s a different question whether the Chinese apps were stealthily passing Indian user info, crucial data on national security and other information to Chinese servers. The important question is if the government has blocked these apps on the basis of privacy and security concerns, then how safe and secure are apps and platforms that belong to gigantic American corporations like Google, Facebook, Microsoft and others? How come the serious allegations levelled against these corporate houses aren’t dealt with seriously by the same Indian investigating agencies that have recommended blocking of these 59 apps?
The Facebook Inc of Mark Zuckerberg was fined $5bn by the US Federal Trade Commission (USFTC) for the privacy concerns that were raised during the investigation into the alleged malpractices adopted by the Cambridge Analytica. This $5bn fineis believed to be the biggest ever imposed on any company for violating privacy concerns of its users. Yet, no one took cognisance of the Facebook’s offence in India. No one raised concerns over the violation of privacy and passing of user details to unscrupulous entities outside India. No one even questioned how safe it’s to use WhatsApp, the popular messaging app, which accepted that its data was compromised.
In this report by The Daily Mail, security researchers are quoted stating that a bug in the app may have passed user data, pictures, etc, to hackers. WhatsApp even acknowledged that its platform was used by unscrupulous agencies to do surveillance on the activists and journalists critical of their right-wing governments in different parts of the world.
In a report by the Financial Times, it’s said citing the findings of the Irish data regulator that: “Google is secretly using hidden web pages that feed the personal data of its users to advertisers, undermining its own policies and circumventing EU privacy regulations that require consent and transparency, according to one of its smaller rivals.” Apart from this, in a submission to the UK Competition and Markets Authority, the Brave browser has said: “Google’s monopoly is based on its “internal” data free-for-all. Enforcement of the GDPR would neutralize Google’s unfair data advantage, and give consumers power tantamount to “functional separation” of Google’s businesses.”
Apart from this, the USFTC imposed a fine of $1.7bn on Google LLC and its subsidiary YouTube LLC for illegally collecting children’s information without their parents’ consent. Now this penalty was for violating the rights of American children. What about those in India or other countries of South Asia? Or those children in Asia-Africa-Latin America who are falling prey to this data stealing project?
Facebook and its other social media products like WhatsApp and Instagram help the ruling BJP to carry out its propaganda and use its notorious IT Cell to peddle fake news to vilify Muslims, political opponents, etc. Facebook has recently bought 10% stakes in Mukesh Ambani’s mobile internet venture JIO. Ambani is the biggest patron of Modi and the BJP, and JIO is playing a crucial role to build a gigantic data enterprise, which will also help the government to run a surveillance state and violate privacy rights of the citizens. Modi laid the foundation of a private data collection and trading project for big corporates during his September 2015 Silicon Valley tour and his meetings with various tycoons of the Silicon Valley, including Zuckerberg. At the same time, Modi also met a group of high-profile infamous American media barons like Warren Buffet and Rupert Murdoch to woo them to join his endeavour.
Soon after this meeting and his US tour, Modi reinvigorated the Digital India campaign and even unleashed the gruesome “demonetisation” drive in November to December 2016, to help the payment gateways, electronic payment companies like the US-based Visa, MasterCard, etc, along with Chinese PayTM. JIO launched its commercial operations –– albeit, with free promotion to disrupt the market and weaken the competitors — in September 2016 and using its free data and Aadhar-based biometric activation system, it built a gigantic database of millions of Indians, easily mapping them according to their demographic information, affinity, preferences, etc.
Now that JIO and Facebook have partnered, they form a bigger threat to online privacy of Indian people. They also own, probably the world’s largest biometric database consisting of personally-identifiable information of 369.93m users. This is a huge number when we look into the estimation of 448.2m mobile internet users in India in 2020. India’s poor data protection rules and an obscure system to deal with breach of online privacy makes its internet market with 483m a fiefdom of international data dealers like Facebook and Google. The BJP, with its pseudo-nationalist rhetoric and servility towards white-skinned American masters, remains an enabler of this sheer loot of data, which is as valuable as oil in the market.
The Modi regime won’t be able to take any step against the data theft by Facebook through its gigantic mechanism unless it wants to jeopardise its own political hegemony. Though neither Modi nor his military officials would need apps like TikTok or YouCam to run their day-to-day affairs, they do need services from Google, and they have a presence on Facebook and WhatsApp. Many government officials or military personnel have Facebook accounts and through their usage, location, phone and contact access, the US-based CIA-led obnoxious terrorist enterprise easily maps India’s defence capabilities and predict its government’s course of action. It saves the spy agency time and money, as they don’t have to deploy physical spies to collect information or steal data.
How many wars have China waged against other countries since its liberation in 1949? How many elected governments did it topple? How many foreign government officials did Beijing annihilate? Did China kill millions using nuclear bombs, wars for colonial occupation and forceful regime-change expeditions? No, it didn’t. But the US surely did. The CIA-led terrorist American imperialist establishment works independently to protect the interests of American corporations throughout the world and to promote the business of its infamous military-industrial complex.
The American war machinery has killed millions since the end of the second world war. Thus, India has more to fear from the US than China. Ironically, both Modi and the mainstream opposition parties, especially the Congress party, are servile to the US and can’t ignore its diktats. Thus, without any reason, the Modi regime is not only drawing India into the Sino-American trade war, by allowing the US-owned apps and software programs to exploit Indian people’s and government’s data, but the Modi regime is also actually keeping the country vulnerable and weak before the world’s decadent, yet ferocious, imperialist power.
This cosmetic blockade on 59 apps won’t affect the Chinese capital’s juggernaut. Globally it will penetrate through friendly investments and loans in those places where the sentiments against the US imperialistic oppression is high. Except for a few countries like India, where the middle class is an ardent fan of the US due to the prevalent Brahminical hegemonic outlook that holds the white-skinned rich in high esteem vis-a-vis others, the anti-US sentiment prevails all over the world. Throughout Asia-Africa and Latin America, the anti-US imperialist sentiments are high, and people want a change. China takes that as an opportunity and ventures to fill the void that the US occupation widened.
There’s no credit in making the Indian people cannon fodders in the US’s proxy war against China. It’s true that the BJP and its mainstream opposition want to expand the US’s imperialist interests in the Indian subcontinent and South Asia, fighting with a close neighbour following the diktats of one’s master who lives at a far-away place is never a wise decision. India and China need to strengthen their bilateral ties and build a stronger Asian power block against the US and its lackeys. Expecting the Modi regime to actually honour a neighbour against the US’s wishes will be too much of a fancy wish. The anti-fascist and progressive forces of India must politically educate the masses by simplifying the complex geopolitics of the region and build up a massive people’s movement for democracy, socialism, peace and unity.