Modern-day phones aren’t just a telephony device but a device that represents the digital version of the individual who operates it. It knows where you last went, where you ordered your last pizza from, how much you have in your bank accounts, which friends you interact with people, your pulse rate, your blood pressure, your medical history, your favorite restaurant, your music preferences, so on and so forth. In short, if a company has access to someone’s phone data, it can produce a robotic version of the person, which will behave more or less in a very similar manner.
So, when the digital version of you goes to a foreign country, you become a puppet in their hand. This is one of the reasons that the Modi government is stressing so much on data localization and brought the Personal Data Protection Bill to ensure that user data of Indian citizens is stored locally. However, the data localization drive is still in the initial stage, and most of the foreign companies still store data of Indian users in their home country.
And when that foreign country is an enemy nation, like China, it’s a bigger issue for the government of the day. This is precisely the reason why PM Modi banned Chinese apps like WeChat and TikTok because they simply saved all user data on to Chinese servers. But it’s not just the apps that are the threat. Chinese phones, which occupy more than 80 percent of India’s Smartphone market, also pose a grave risk.
There are three major reasons for it:
Firstly, all Chinese phones come with pre-installed bloatware like custom browsers, cache cleaner, games, health apps and other utility apps that have all possible permission to your system. These bloatware store data about user preferences on Chinese servers, which can be later used for commercial as well military purpose. Modi Government recently banned the Mi Browser- Xiaomi’s flagship android browser- and UC Browser because these used to censor anti-China content and were also suspected to be a national security threat.
Secondly, there are Custom ROMs. Google gives the barebone version of Android OS to Mobile Handset makers, who customize the operating system to make it look more personalized. The customization can easily be tweaked to spy or steal data, and most of the Chinese Smartphone companies practice this. The worst part is that OS customizations cannot be removed unless you are a tech ninja, and thus, Chinese companies end up taking our personal user data without our consent.
And thirdly, every phone has a camera and a microphone that can be used as a surveillance device. In the case of China, it becomes all the more grave as their data burglary and proclivity for keeping an eye on the world is not a secret. Recently the United States blacklisted many Chinese Artificial startups and security camera companies for involvement in human rights abuse. The “entities (blacklisted ones) have been implicated in human rights violations and abuses in the implementation of China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance against Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups,” reads the statement US Commerce Department.
Chinese phones haven’t borne the wrath of the Modi government yet and they continue to be sold in India. The Chinese smartphone companies like Xiaomi and BBK Electronics (owner of Vivo, Oppo, OnePlus, and RealMe brands and controls around 50 percent of market share) are trying to save themselves by arguing that they manufacture in India and provide jobs to thousands of Indians.
However, the fact remains that they only assemble the parts in India in order to escape from custom duty. Majority of the profits earned out of these phones still end up in the parent company’s pocket, which is based in China and pays tax to the Chinese Communist Party. In turn, the Chinese Communist Party funds its private militia- People’s Liberation Army- to carry out border encroachment activity in neighboring countries.
The government is making efforts to clean up (purge Chinese companies and investment) sector by sector. In the last few weeks, many Chinese apps were banned and contracts given to Chinese companies were scrapped. In spite of this, Flipkart and Amazon are handing out Chinese phones at throwaway prices to unsuspecting customers as the festive season starts. But the fact remains that government is vigilant towards the Smartphone sector from where China is earning billions of dollars every year, and one fine day, we might get to know that Chinese phones are banned in India and support is completely stopped for them. And this is when you will wake up with a fancy glass brick lying right next to you.