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.