Anonymous sources say India’s IT ministry is considering these rules due to concerns about espionage and misuse of user data. However, the country’s minister of state for IT, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, says the news is “plain wrong.”
NEW DELHI, India – India plans to force smartphone makers to allow the removal of pre-installed apps and mandate screening of major operating system updates under proposed new security rules, according to two people and a government document seen by Reuters.
The plan for new rules, the details of which have not previously been reported, could extend launch timelines in the world’s number two smartphone market and lead to a loss of business from pre-installed apps for players including Samsung, Xiaomi, Vivo and Apple.
India’s IT ministry is considering these rules amid concerns about espionage and misuse of user data, said a senior official, one of two people who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity because the information is not yet public.
“Pre-installed apps can be a weak point of security and we want to ensure that no foreign nation, including China, exploits it. It is a matter of national security,” the official added.
Chinese manufacturers account for more than half of all smartphone sales in India.
However, India’s Minister of State for IT, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, said the news was “plain wrong” and that “there is no ‘security test’ or ‘crackdown’ as the story suggests.”
He added in a post on Twitter that there was ongoing consultation between the government and industry.
He did not elaborate.
India has stepped up scrutiny of Chinese companies since a border clash between the neighbors in 2020, banning more than 300 Chinese apps, including TikTok. It has also intensified scrutiny of Chinese companies’ investments.
Also globally, many nations have imposed restrictions on the use of technology from Chinese firms such as Huawei and Hikvision due to fears that Beijing could use them to spy on foreign citizens. China denies these claims.
Currently, most smartphones come with pre-installed apps that cannot be deleted, such as Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi’s app store GetApps, Samsung’s payment app Samsung Pay mini and iPhone maker Apple’s Safari browser.
Under the new rules, smartphone makers will have to offer an uninstall option and new models will be checked for compliance by a lab authorized by the Bureau of Indian Standards agency, the two people with knowledge of the plan said.
The government is also considering mandating screening of all major operating system updates before they are rolled out to consumers, one of the people said.
Reuters was the first to report the discussions on Tuesday.
A confidential government report on February 8 of an IT ministry meeting, seen by Reuters, says: “Majority of smartphones used in India have pre-installed apps/bloatware which pose serious privacy/information security issues”.
The closed-door meeting was attended by representatives from Xiaomi, Samsung, Apple and Vivo, the minutes show.
The government has decided to give smartphone makers a year to comply when the rule comes into effect, the date of which has not been set yet, the document added.
The companies did not respond to a request for comment.
India’s fast-growing smartphone market is dominated by Chinese players. Xiaomi and BBK Electronics’ Vivo and Oppo account for 47% of total sales, Counterpoint data shows. South Korea’s Samsung has a 20% share and Apple has 3%.
While EU rules require the removal of pre-installed apps to be allowed, it does not have a screening mechanism to check for compliance that India is considering.
An industry executive said some pre-installed apps like the camera are essential to the user experience and the government needs to distinguish between these and non-essentials when imposing screening rules.
Smartphone players often sell their devices with proprietary apps, but sometimes they also pre-install others with whom they have monetization agreements.
The other concern is that more testing could lengthen approval times for smartphones, another industry executive said. Currently, it takes about 21 weeks for a smartphone and its parts to be tested by the public authority for compliance with safety requirements.
“It’s a massive obstacle to a company’s go-to-market strategy,” the executive said. – Rappler.com