Difficult to execute ban on Chinese apps: Digital experts

NEW DELHI: Several digital and technology experts say that it will be difficult to execute the ban on 59 Chinese apps as it would require internet service providers to blacklist every host name and domain name associated with these apps. It would also require Google and Apple to remove these apps from their stores, which could expose users to unofficial versions of the apps.
“App bans are notoriously hard to execute. Earlier when TikTok was banned, it was taken down from both app stores on the backing of a Madras HC order. Still people could download APKs from the web and access the app,” Shashank Mohan, a tech-policy researcher at Delhi’s National Law University Centre for Communication Governance. APKs are unofficial versions.
“The government has also not explained how these apps threaten the sovereignty of India,” Mohan added.
According to another digital researcher Prateek Waghre, the feasibility of the ban is questionable since asking ISPs to block these apps would require someone determining all the host names. He added this could lead to “over-blocking, which will impact other apps”.

Experts explained that technology companies upload the official version of their apps on the App Store (Apple) and Play Store (Google), but even when applications are taken down from these platforms, users can still download their unofficial versions from the web. This poses additional security threats since companies do not roll out updates for the unofficial versions of the apps. Updates generally fix vulnerabilities, which otherwise can be exploited by hackers and cyber criminals.
According to medianama founder Nikhil Pahwa, the ban can be executed in several ways, but it is unclear how it would be implemented. “Big question: what does blocking mean? Does it mean that the apps (from the 59) you’ve downloaded will stop functioning? Or does it mean that apps will be blocked at an ISP level? Or will the app store and play store stop downloads?” he wrote on Twitter.

When apps are blocked on an ISP level, the government asks Internet Service Provider (ISPs) for wireline and your telecom operators for wireless to block access to these apps. Pahwa also added this was a “political decision” since bans under section 69A of the IT Act does not need to be announced.
“The government may tell ISPs to block hostnames and domain names. It may also ask the app stores to remove these applications. But the public may not know what the government’s orders entail since the ban has been executed under section 69A and they can remain confidential, unless some whistleblowers in government leaks it” said Bengaluru-based digital activist Anivar Aravind.

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