Exclusive: India plans new security test for smartphones, crackdown on pre-installed apps


  • India wants phone makers to allow removal of pre-installed apps
  • Looking to order screening of major operating system updates
  • The Indian government is concerned about the apps’ potential data abuse
  • Industry executives worry the new rules could prolong the rollout

NEW DELHI, March 14 (Reuters) – India plans to force smartphone makers to allow the removal of pre-installed apps and mandate screening of major operating system updates under proposed new security rules, according to two people and a government document seen by Reuters.

The plan for the new rules, the details of which have not yet been reported, could extend launch timelines in the world’s No.2 smartphone market and lead to business losses from pre-installed apps for among players including Samsung (005930.KS), Xiaomi ( 1810.HK), Vivo, and Apple (AAPL.O).

India’s IT ministry is considering these rules amid concerns about spying and misuse of user data, said a senior government official, one of two people who spoke to Reuters in on condition of anonymity because the information is not yet public.

“Pre-installed apps can be a security weak point and we want to ensure that no foreign countries, including China, take advantage of it. This is a matter of national security,” the official added.

Chinese manufacturers account for more than half of all smartphone sales in India.

India’s minister of state for IT, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, however, said the news was “plain wrong” and that “there was no “security testing” or “crackdown” as the story suggests.

He added, in a post on Twitter, that there is ongoing consultation between the government and industry.

He did not elaborate.

India has stepped up scrutiny of Chinese businesses since the 2020 border clash between the neighbors, banning more than 300 Chinese apps, including TikTok. It has also intensified scrutiny of investments by Chinese companies.

Around the world, many countries have imposed restrictions on the use of technology from Chinese companies such as Huawei ( HWT.UL ) and Hikvision ( 002415.SZ ) over fears Beijing could use them to spy on foreign citizen China has denied these allegations.

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 tested for compliance by a lab authorized by the Bureau of Indian Standards agency, two people with knowledge said. in the plan.

The government is also considering mandating the screening of every major operating system update before it is rolled out to consumers, one of the people said.

Reuters first reported the deliberations on Tuesday.

A confidential government record on February 8 of a meeting with the IT ministry, seen by Reuters, states: “Most smartphones used in India come with pre-installed Apps/Bloatware that cause serious information privacy/security issue(s).”

The closed-door meeting was attended by representatives from Xiaomi, Samsung, Apple and Vivo, according to the record of the meeting.

The government has decided to give smartphone makers one year to comply once the rule takes effect, the date of which has not been fixed, the document added.

The companies did not respond to a request for comment.


India’s fast-growing smartphone market is dominated by Chinese players. Xiaomi and BBK Electronics’ Vivo and Oppo account for 47% of total sales, Counterpoint data shows. South Korea’s Samsung has a 20% share and Apple has 3%.

While European Union regulations require the removal of pre-installed apps, it does not have a screening mechanism to check compliance like India is considering.

An industry executive said some pre-installed apps like the camera are critical to the user experience and the government should make a distinction between them and not matter when imposing screening rules.

Smartphone gamers often sell their devices with proprietary apps, but sometimes also pre-install others with which they have monetization agreements.

Another concern is that more testing could lengthen approval timelines for smartphones, a second industry executive said. It currently takes about 21 weeks for a smartphone and its components to be tested by a government agency for safety compliance.

“It’s a huge obstacle to a company’s go-to market strategy,” the executive said.

Reporting by Munsif Vengattil and Aditya Kalra in New Delhi; Editing by Himani Sarkar

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Munsif Vengattil

Thomson Reuters

Munsif Vengattil is a Reuters’ India technology correspondent, based in New Delhi. He tracks how policymaking is influencing the tech business in India, and how the country is more aggressively vying to become a powerhouse in the global electronics supply chain. He also regularly reports on big tech giants, including Facebook and Google, and their strategies and challenges in the key Indian market.

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