Implementing app bans: The role of ISPs and app stores
An `exhaustive recommendation for blocking malicious apps’, from the Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre, part of the Ministry of Home Affairs resulted in the ban. It acted on the statement from the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) which said it had received complaints from various quarters, including several reports about the misuse of some mobile apps for stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorised manner to servers outside India.
A ban order which is easy to shoot out on e-mails and paper, needs various stakeholders to be aligned to enforce the ban. That includes app stores and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) acting on specific orders from the government.
A Google India spokesperson said the company has not received any notice from the government except “one order on TikTok which is being reviewed”. While e-mail sent to Apple did not elicit a response. Even Airtel did not respond to ET queries on the ban.
To begin with apps, be it gaming, education, infotainment, don’t need any local government body permission to launch. They are available on app stores after they meet guidelines of those stores. However, some apps like, e-commerce apps or payment apps, need permission from the Reserve Bank of India, National Payments Corporation of India and other authorities to start operations.
Sanjay Kaushik, managing director, Netrika Consulting India says, “users who have downloaded any of the 59 apps can continue using the apps till their mobile service providers or ISPs block them.” The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, National E-Governance body, Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (Cert-In), National Informatics Centre among others oversee the right operating model for apps, digital platforms, web sites and so on.
When the order banning the apps was issued no timeline was indicated for the ban to start. However, the banned companies can make a representation to the government to address any issues (like, where user data is stored) and seek a removal of ban order. If after that, the ban is not revoked, the government will inform app stores to remove it and ISPs to block use of the banned apps.
App stores will follow government orders but before removing an app they in turn notify the developer, as app stores which host the apps don’t own the IP for TikTok, Cam Scanner, Vigo Video or any of the other apps which have been banned.
If an app is finally removed from Google Play Store or Apple App Store, these can’t be downloaded however app stores can’t do anything about the app already downloaded. Users can see old videos, even create new ones and share them, but won’t get further upgrades, notifications on the app.
Here’s where ISPs step in to act on the ban — if ISPs block the app, content can’t be shared as the internet traffic flows through their servers. Like in Dubai users can’t make WhatsApp calls as ISPs block it. Naveen Mishra, senior research director, Gartner, says, “the moment the interface with the internet is blocked, the ban plays out.” Much like when tourists land anywhere in China, they can’t share photos on Facebook as it is blocked by ISPs there, on advice of the government.