India Investigating Data Protection Issues Associated with Chinese Telecommunications Firms, Reports of User Data Being Sent to China

On August 23, India’s Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy and Elec­tron­ics ordered 21 smart­phone mak­ers (most of them Chi­nese) to provide details on their infor­ma­tion secu­rity pro­ce­dures as part of a review of the pro­tec­tion of Indian user data.  The review has been sparked by an aca­d­e­mic study from the Uni­ver­sity of Toronto, which indi­cates that Alibaba’s UC Browser has “sev­eral major pri­vacy and secu­rity vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties that would seri­ously expose users of UC Browser to sur­veil­lance and other pri­vacy vio­la­tions.”  UC Browser is the sec­ond most uti­lized browser in India, with an esti­mated 48.66% mar­ket share.  The Min­istry is inves­ti­gat­ing con­cerns that Indian mobile user data is being sent to servers in China, even after users unin­stall the browser or clean their brows­ing his­tory.

UC Browsers fall under the mantle of Alibaba’s mobile busi­ness group which has pen­e­trated the Indian mar­ket through a series of sig­nif­i­cant invest­ments includ­ing via: Paytm; its par­ent com­pany, One97; and e-com­merce com­pany, Snapdeal.

Indian offi­cials appear to be pay­ing par­tic­u­lar atten­tion to user data secu­rity in the con­text of esca­lat­ing bor­der ten­sions with China in the Dok­lam region, see­ing a greater like­li­hood or risk of the mar­ket share cul­ti­vated by Chi­nese telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pa­nies in India being weaponized in some way, should rela­tions between the two coun­tries con­tin­ues to dete­ri­o­rate.  China’s foot­print in India’s tele­com mar­ket is also rep­re­sented in the smart­phone sales of Lenovo, Xiaomi and Huawei, which have a 54% mar­ket share in India.