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As New Delhi Bans Chinese Apps, Can Western Tech Monopolies Threaten India's National Security?

© REUTERS / ReutersFILE PHOTO: The logos of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google in a combination photo./File Photo
FILE PHOTO: The logos of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google in a combination photo./File Photo - Sputnik International, 1920, 06.02.2021
India, the nation with the world's youngest population, has in recent years emerged as a hotspot for international tech giants to lock horns in, bidding to establish their respective supremacies. While countries like Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea tread lightly in India, world powers US and China often indulge in hardcore competition.

In 2020, India banned over 200 Chinese apps from operating in the country citing national security reasons. New Delhi's move came against the backdrop of ongoing border tensions with China that escalated last April after both countries accused each other of trespassing the boundary.

The same year, western big tech mammoths like Google and Facebook among others, invested billions of dollars in India, strengthening their foothold in a country with over 600 million internet users. As several Chinese tech firms, including 5G providers like ZTE and Huawei lost India as one of their biggest, most lucrative markets, American companies emerged as the top beneficiaries of the Indo-China tensions. 

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Industry analysts have emphasised that western tech monopolies could be just as much a threat to India'a national security as the Chinese players are suspected of being. Indian tech experts are concerned that due to the lack of India-based big tech players and the push out of significant Chinese players like TikTok and PUBG from the country, the big tech monopoly is in the hands of western giants in India. 

"In the US the government and tech giants are using users data by maintaining a monopoly and updating their terms of service - the most recent example is the privacy policy updates by WhatsApp. The Indian government must bring in laws and regulations concerning privacy not only for Indian companies but also to have control over the foreign companies investing in Indian firms as in the case of Google and Facebook investing in Reliance Jio", senior tech analyst Kunal Kislay told Sputnik. 

While western giants like Google, Facebook, and Walmart are pouring heavy investments into India's established brands in the tech and e-commerce sphere, the main investors in 13 out of India's 26 unicorn companies come from China, research by the Mumbai-based foreign policy think tank Gateway House revealed last year.

Noting an interesting turn of events, Kislay also stated that big tech companies from around the world have developed a tendency of becoming "anti-capitalist" in terms of fair competition rules.

"Capitalism promotes the free market and competition whereas these tech giants have focused on removing competition and maintaining their monopoly. One way to deal with this is the implementation of antitrust laws against tech giants. The Indian government's new-found focus on a self-reliant economy will reduce our dependency on both Chinese and western tech giants and bring about a needed equilibrium", the analyst added.

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In the second half of 2020, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged Indians to "go vocal for local" so that, in the bigger picture, the country becomes "self-reliant".  

Industry experts have also been urging Indian engineers, app makers, and entrepreneurs to come up with ideas that could be pitched in competition with international players in the tech sphere. At present, India does not have big domestic brands in two important sectors – smartphones and apps – both of which are heavily used in the country and are sourced from other countries.

"I think this is an opportunity for the Indian startup ecosystem to innovate and address the needs of the Indian market. India is already a lucrative market for international players and investments have gone up. Having said that, keeping in line with the self-reliance mission, my bet is on the Indian entrepreneurs to tackle complex Indian issues, and provide much needed solutions at scale", Kazim Rizvi, the Director of Indian tech policy think tank The Dialogue told Sputnik.

India is currently in the process of tightening its digital borders and claiming cybernetic sovereignty in terms of data transfer, privacy, government oversight, and taxation.

As the country works on framing and executing data protection norms, Rizvi has reminded that in this game of nudging Chinese tech giants away and keeping western tech monopolisation in check, India should establish an even more conducive environment for tech players from other countries to be attracted here.

"The government must also help build India's reputation as a global business and be careful as to not isolate India from the global economy in its pursuit of a self-reliant India. Especially in terms of the global data economy, which plays a huge role in the development of such technologies, it is key that we adopt an open and cooperative approach, with the free flow of data across borders, so as to ensure key investments in the Indian technological space are not hampered", Rizvi added.
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