The government is planning to force smartphone companies to allow removal of pre-installed apps and mandate screening of major operating system updates under proposed new security rules, citing two sources aware of the development news agency Reuters reported on Tuesday.
According to the new rules, details of which have not been previously reported, could extend launch timelines in India, world’s No.2 smartphone market, and lead to losses in business from pre-installed apps for companies, including Samsung, Xiaomi, Vivo, and Apple.
IT ministry is considering these new rules amid concerns about spying and abuse of user data, said a senior government official, one of the two people, declining to be named as the information is not yet public. “Pre-installed apps can be a weak security point and we want to ensure no foreign nations, including China, are exploiting it. It’s a matter of national security,” the official added.
India has ramped up scrutiny of Chinese businesses since a 2020 border clash between the neighbours, banning more than 300 Chinese apps, including TikTok. It has also intensified scrutiny of investments by Chinese firms.
Many across the globe have imposed curbs on the use of technology from Chinese firms such as Huawei and Hikvision on fears Beijing could use them to spy on foreign citizens. China, however, denies these charges.
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 browser Safari.
Under the new rules, smartphone makers will have to provide an uninstall option and new models will be checked for compliance by a lab authorized by the Bureau of Indian Standards agency, two sources with privy to the development said.
The government is also considering mandating screening of every major operating system update before it is rolled out to consumers, one of the sources said. “Majority of smartphones used in India are having pre-installed Apps/Bloatware which poses serious privacy/information security issue(s),” stated a Feb. 8 confidential government record of an IT ministry meeting, seen by Reuters.
The closed-door meeting was attended by representatives from Xiaomi, Samsung, Apple and Vivo, the meeting record shows. The government has decided to give smartphone makers a year to comply once the rule comes into effect, the date for which has not been fixed yet, the document added.