News & Analysis

No Chinese Apps, Welcome Chinese Investments

Image Courtesy: Gizmeek

Over the past four months, India has effectively extinguished 224 apps, most of them Chinese and a substantial number associated with one name – Tencent. Government is clear about why these apps are a security threat. These apps “collect and share data in a surreptitious manner and compromise personal data and information of users…”

There’s no way one can question the reasoning as every government’s first duty is to ensure the security of its borders as well as the economic interests of its citizens. So when the government announced last night that, “In the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India and security of the State…Government of India has decided to block the usage of certain apps, used in mobile and non-mobile Internet enabled devices,” we appreciated the move. 

As it was with the earlier bans, some major app titles have vanished (or are set to vanish soon) from the Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store – the biggest among them being TikTok and PUBG – one used to create and share short-format videos and the other being that intriguing, or should one dare to say, obtrusive mobile game. 

If Prime Minister Narendra Modi had shared his Mann Ki Baat around how these two apps were pushing the Indian youth (as well as the not so youthful) towards an app addiction that curtailed their potential, we would have raised a toast. Not that we are against these bans in its entirety, given the penchant of Chinese firms to share data with their political masters in Beijing. 

What makes the move to ban these Chinese apps lose some of its sheen is that the very same company that bore the brunt of these actions appears to be making its move from another route by investing in Indian businesses. Almost in parallel to the breaking news around the app ban, it was announced that India’s very own music streaming platform Gaana received $50 million in fresh investments with 80% of it coming from Tencent. 

The Prashan Agarwal-led company which competes with the likes of JioSaavn, Spotify, YouTube Music and Wynk in India, received $40 million from Tencent in the latest fund infusion that also saw Times Internet participate. The latest investment comes two years after Tencent led a $115 million round in Gaana, which was also backed by Indian phone-maker Micromax.

However, Tencent has made one small change this time. The latest round of investments have come through its European entity Tencent Cloud BV. With the latest fund infusion, Tencent now holds close to 35% of stake in Gaana, with Times Internet diluting its stake to 60% and the rest going to ESOPs and others. Readers may recall that Tencent had pumped in $110 million into another Times Group brand MX Player, an upcoming video streaming service (OTT). 

Now, the uncharitable might claim that the government is making exceptions for groups that toe their line, given that the Times Group has led the advocacy against Chinese investments in India post the Galwan skirmish between Indian and Chinese troops in May. However, from our point of view, this suits the Atma Nirbhar plans articulated by Modi, especially since India’s own venture funding system relies so heavily on overseas players. 

And, in case you didn’t notice, this isn’t the first investment from Tencent in India this year. Since January, the company has invested in Swiggy, DoubtNut, Pratilipi, and Khatabook. 

Now, if you were to ask why PUBG faced the axe, given that it was developed by the South Korean company Bluehole, there’s a side story to it as well. Government has only banned the PUBG versions that were involved with Tencent, which is essentially the mobile app. Looks like someone in the designated ministry took more trouble to solve the investment maze and find the right kinds of apps to remove from the Indian ecosystem.

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