India Exploring Regulation to Test Chinese Smartphones for Snooping, Data Security Concerns

IndiaIndia is exploring a regulation that may mandate teardown or in-depth testing of handsets to ensure that the devices and installed apps are not snooping on the citizens of the country, people familiar with the matter.

The move, seen as a retaliation for the continued Chinese aggression at the India-China border, could be in line with what the government has put in place for telecom equipment, they said.

The government is compiling a list of trusted sources and trusted companies for telecom equipment and networking products to check alleged cyber snooping. The move is believed to be aimed at keeping Chinese players such as Huawei and ZTE out of critical areas of telecom networks, said experts.
While the regulation, if it materialises, will cover the entire industry, Chinese brands will be in focus, said one of the persons involved in initial consultations with the government.

“The government can put in a special provision for companies from countries that share borders with India,” the person said on condition of anonymity.

The Indian handset market is dominated by Chinese players such as Xiaomi, Oppo, Vivo and Realme.

Queries to these companies did not elicit a response till press time. Queries to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) also went unanswered.

“The government doesn’t want to scare companies but needs to ensure that there are no security-related issues. For the security teardown, the Chinese should not have a problem if they think their products are clean,” said a second person, who did not wish to be identified either.

The MeitY, National Technical Research Organisation and other government bodies are exploring possibilities of framing such a regulation, said people in the know. They said industry bodies are also coordinating with the Prime Minister Office and the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade, among other government bodies.
Representatives of companies have also had separate meetings with government officials, said the people.

“Companies are being asked to show the bill of materials. A complete analysis is being done. Ten action points were discussed. While some were diluted, some are being explored seriously and worked upon,” said the first person cited earlier.

Handset makers may also be asked to share the source code of their smartphones for testing, along with details of vendors from whom they source components for smartphones, said the person.
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In addition to hardware level scrutiny, officials are also evaluating the strategy of Chinese smartphone companies to pre-install certain apps on their phones.

“They are trying to find out the nature of these apps, why these apps come pre-installed and whether these apps share certain information. They want to see whether these apps are not hard installed into the phone and can be deleted,” said the second person.

Last year, India had banned more than 200 Chinese apps, including certain Xiaomi applications. These apps come pre-installed on MIUI, which powers most Mi, Redmi and Poco smartphones. Xiaomi had then said that it was developing a new version of MIUI which would be built without pre-installation of any of the blocked apps.

The government is also planning to check the conduct of smartphone companies, especially Chinese, in India, which will cover taxation issues as well. The tax authorities recently carried out a raid on ZTE’s premises.

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