Exclusive – India plans new security testing for smartphones to combat pre-installed apps

Exclusive – India plans new security testing for smartphones to combat pre-installed apps

Written by Munsif Vengattil and Aditya Kalra

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India plans to force smartphone makers to allow pre-installed apps to be removed and major operating system updates to be scanned under proposed new security rules, according to two people and a government document seen by Reuters. .

The new rules, which were not previously reported, could extend launch timelines in the world’s No. 2 smartphone market and lead to business losses due to pre-installed apps for players such as Samsung, Xiaomi, Vivo and Apple.

India’s IT ministry is considering these new rules amid concerns about spying and misuse of user data, said a senior government official, one of two people who declined to be named because the information is not yet public.

“Pre-installed applications can be a weak point in security and we want to ensure that foreign countries, including China, do not exploit them. This is a matter of national security,” the official added.

India has stepped up scrutiny of Chinese businesses since a 2020 border clash between the neighbors and has banned more than 300 Chinese apps, including TikTok. In addition, it closely controls the investments of Chinese companies.

Globally, many nations have restricted the use of technology from Chinese companies such as Huawei and Hikvision, fearing Beijing could use it to spy on foreign nationals. China denies these allegations.

Currently, most smartphones come with pre-installed apps that cannot be deleted, such as Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi’s GetApps app store, Samsung’s payments app, Samsung Pay mini, and iPhone maker Apple’s Safari browser.

Under the new rules, smartphone makers will have to provide a removal option and new models will be checked for compliance by a laboratory authorized by the Bureau of Indian Standards, two people familiar with the plan said.

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The government is also considering making it mandatory for all major operating system updates to be vetted before they are released to consumers, one of the people said.

“Majority of smartphones used in India have pre-installed apps/bloatware, which poses a serious privacy/information security issue(s),” according to a confidential government memo obtained by Reuters from a Feb. 8 IT ministry meeting.

The closed meeting was attended by representatives of Xiaomi, Samsung, Apple and Vivo, according to the minutes of the meeting.

The government has decided to give smartphone makers a year to comply after the rule comes into force, the date of which has not yet been fixed, the document added.

The companies and India’s IT ministry did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.


According to Counterpoint data, India’s fast-growing smartphone market is dominated by Chinese players, with Xiaomi and BBK Electronics’ Vivo and Oppo products accounting for nearly half of sales. South Korean Samsung has a 20 percent stake, and Apple has a 3 percent stake.

While European Union regulations require pre-installed apps to be removed, they do not have a vetting mechanism to check compliance like India is considering.

Some pre-installed apps, such as the camera, are critical to the user experience, and the government should distinguish between them and non-essential apps when imposing filtering rules, an industry executive said.

Smartphone gamers often sell their devices with their own apps, but sometimes pre-install others with which they have a monetization agreement.

Another concern is that more testing could extend the smartphone’s approval deadline, a second industry executive said. Currently, it takes about 21 weeks for the government agency to test the smartphone and its parts for safety compliance.

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“This greatly hinders the company’s go-to-market strategy,” the executive said.

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

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