Geeta Singh has spent 20 years covering cinema, music and society, giving new dimensions to feature writing. She has to her credit the editorship of a film magazine. She is also engaged in exploring the socio-economic diversity of Indian politics. She is the co-founder of Parliamentarian
These are very, very troubled waters.
Quote the MINT: Operators may soon decide how much more pain they can endure for a high-speed wireless network that can offer better user experience in streaming, gaming and entertainment in a market where Netflix Inc. to Amazon.com Inc. are making inroads. With applications ranging from manufacturing to education and health care, 5G could be the catalyst for India’s digital economy that has the potential to reach $1 trillion by 2025, according to a report by Deloitte.
On top of that comes the war of attrition between Chinese players and their smaller Indian competitors, the latter wanting the Chinese giants like Huawei to be taken of the starting block. Huawei Technologies strengthened its dominance of China’s smartphone market, with shipments rising 66% in the third quarter as domestic consumers rallied behind it after U.S. sanctions, according to market data released by Canalys. Huawei smartphones captured 42% market share in China.
After the US blacklisted Huawei Technologies Ltd’s and software supply on charges of espionage, the South China-based company is willing to make a “no backdoor” pact with the Indian government to tone down the potential security concerns. Huawei India CEO Jay Chen said, “We are proposing to the Indian government that we are ready to sign a ‘No backdoor’ agreement. We encourage other original equipment manufacturers to sign this kind of agreement with the government and telecom service providers.”
The Chinese telecom behemoth is keen to expand its business in India and is ready to provide 5G network services in the country after battling intense pressure from the US because, within the days of the US government action, Huawei took a sever backlash. And right now, India is a vital market for the Chinese company so it is hopeful of being allowed to participate in the trial. Meanwhile, Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad also expressed security issues over allowing Huawei to participate in the 5G network trial for 5G services.
What does Backdoor mean? In technology, Backdoor is a technique in which a system security mechanism is bypassed undetectably to access a computer or its data. It shares data with the government or any other third party. This is done with unauthorized and malicious software. To curb with the backdoor problem, the department of telecommunications issued security guidelines in 2011 where telecom service providers were instructed to set up valid tools and devices in their network to ensure that they are free from any bugs or bad software. However, the government is yet to set up a laboratory to check security issues in the telecommunications equipment and products.
Surprisingly, this is not the first time Huawei came under surveillance for its product. In November 2017 Indian Defense Ministry released an advisory related to Huawei’s device along with the phone of ZTE, another Chinese company, and banned them from the use by international border troops in the region of Line of Actual Control, but the ban did not apply to the rest of India. As per a report published in Financial Express, the Indian intelligence agencies have identified more than 40 apps made by different Chinese companies as ‘dangerous’. These apps pose the risk of unleashing a potential cyber attack against the country. An advisory was also circulated by the agencies against the use of the listed mobile applications, saying these were categorised as malware and spyware and issued a warning to the Indian army and paramilitary forces against their usage. Sources say defence ministry asked border troops from the Armed Force and Central Armed Police Personnel to uninstall them from their smartphones immediately.
Although the world’s second-largest smartphone maker Huawei has given its clarifications several times, controversies always surrounded it. Because the company’s founder Ren Zhengfei had served in China’s People’s Liberation Army (Red Army). So, the company faced charges by governments around the world of working with Chinese national spy agencies and sharing foreign data from other countries with the Chinese government, a charge denied by both Chinese government and Huawei.
Substantially, the threats of bugging do not stop many Chinese apps gaining popularity in India. As per numbers, India has become the fastest-growing mobile application market globally over the recent years.
With more than 1.3 billion potential consumers, the app market in India has drawn much attention as a great opportunity for app growth. Hence, Chinese apps like TikTok’, ‘Kwai’, ‘Like’ and ‘Halo’ have managed to gain popularity in India.
The Chinese appTikTok’ predominance in the Indian market at a very fast pace took the attention of everyone when the ban on TikTok made headlines. The imposing and lifting of the ban was for just 20 days and during that time Indian media had featured various articles on the loss of million dollars of app’s income.
But very few was the reportage on the dangerous aspect of such apps. In India, the rise of the short video-sharing app TikTok is so eye-catching over the past year that it is now nearly impossible for any social media user to not have come across its content. This application was the fourth most downloaded app in the world in 2018 and it reached a billion download mark in February this year. Globally, TikTok has far crossed 1.1 billion installs until March 2019 and emerged as the third most installed app in the world, ranking behind only Facebook’s WhatsApp and Messenger at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively.
Strikingly, India plays a vital role in the tremendous growth of TikTok. Among the global users of TikTok, 39 percent of the users are from India, mostly between the ages of 16 to 24. The app has more than 9 crore monthly active users in India. Figures show that out of the total 1 billion downloads worldwide, India alone has 300 million downloads. Stats show that TikTok users increased significantly last year in the country, with over 32 million app downloads. As per the latest report of Sensor Tower, a mobile app intelligence firm, out of the 18.8 crore new users that TikTok added globally in the first quarter of 2019, 8.86 crores were from India.
Owned by Beijing-based Chinese startup Bytedance, TikTok create videos that often contain memes, lip-syncing songs and sometimes sleazy posts. These videos regularly find ways to other popular social media sites including Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and ShareChat. through these social networking platforms, TikTok promoted in a big way worldwide. Any of them can share the app with others through the file sharing apps like ShareIt (another Chinese app).
Once the app is shared, the user can install the app and start using TikTok. For teenagers and even younger kids of 13 years, the app needs no introduction.
In 2012, when 29-year-old Zhang Yiming, a software engineer from Nankai University, came up with the idea of a news aggregation app powered by artificial intelligence (AI), significant investors like Sequoia Capital were cynical. He perceived the idea when Chinese mobile users struggled to obtain the details they cared about on many apps because of the country’s draconian screening of information. Zhang thought he might do higher than incumbents like Baidu, which enjoyed a near-monopoly on search. The investors challenged how would he outsmart the numerous news portals operated by social media giant Tencent Holdings Ltd. and extract profit where even Google failed. But Zhang proved wrong everyone.
He founded Bytedance seven years ago, an app ecosystem based on Artificial Intelligence (AI), that makes personalised (news, video-based social media) content globally. Zhang started his innovative idea with news site JinriToutiao with strategic expansions that propelled the company into mobile video service TikTok known as Douyin in China and a plethora of platforms for everything from jokes, dance to celebrity gossip.
By nurturing a raft of successful apps, it’s gathered a force of hundreds of millions of users and now poses a threat to China’s largest internet operators like Alibaba and Tencent. Company’s two apps that are already mainstream success stories. Bytedance, the first fully mobile AI company, has succeeded in the areas where Google, Facebook and Tencent have not and become one of China’s largest content platforms as well as global too.
It is the most valuable startup, valued at 75 billion USD with over a dozen mobile apps globally boasting over 1 billion monthly users. Bytedance made Zhang Yiming the top entrepreneur in the world in just seven years. At present, he’s 35 and has a personal net worth of 4 billion USD. According to CB Insights, it has surpassed Uber Technologies Inc. to top the world. And typically has behemoth investors like KKR & Co, General Atlantic, Sequoia and now Softbank Group Corp, which is tentatively planning to invest about 1.5 billion USD. In an interview, Zhang stated, “He has not set boundaries at all, He intellectually challenges his team to reinvent users’ window to the world and never settle for less.” Zhang never employs editors or reporters. He said, “We are doing very innovative work. We are not a copycat of a US company, each in product and technology.”
Tech analyst Jerry Liu opines that Zhang’s company succeeded with web portalJinriToutiao that has leveraged traffic for its cluster of apps that were terribly good at attracting users and typically retaining their time. Apps like TikTok helped Zhang’s company to venture into the global market including U.S., India, Southeast Asia and Japan.
China has always led ahead in the race streaming services. When there were no smartphones still streaming services were popular in the oriental country. Companies like YY Inc in the era of desktop computer championed a model where people sang and danced in virtual showrooms to win online gifts. Bytedance also saw such favourable chance but made its videos precise, shorter in seconds.
Before TikTok, Bytedance’s app Douyin caught the eyes of millennials after its launch in 2016. The app was very easy for users to shoot and edit footage, add filters and share them across social networking platforms like Weibo or WeChat. That format attracted millennial attention and became an instant hit, so much so that WeChat later blocked direct access to the app.
Another popular app Musical.ly was also created by Chinese a company headquartered in Shanghai with an office in Santa Monica, California, on which platform users create and share short videos. Through the app, users could create 15-second to 1-minute lip-syncing music videos and choose soundtracks to accompany them, use different speed options (time-lapse, fast, normal, slow motion, and epic) and add pre-set filters and effects. The app also allowed users to browse popular “musers”, content, trending songs, sounds and hashtags, and uniquely interact with their fans. In May 2017, musical.ly had over 200 million users. But Bytedance bought musical.ly, because it saw synergy between the buzzy teen video app popular created by Chinese co-founders and TikTok, therefore in 2017 Bytedance acquired Musical.ly for $800 million. And combined the two apps into a single app named after TikTok.
Bytedancelaunched another social networking app Helo in India last year. It is now among the leading Indian social platforms with more than 40 million users. It gives cut and throat competition to our local app Sharechat. Helo covers a variety of topics like entertainment, politics, parenting and farming. The strong point for number of its downloads is that it enables multiple Indian languages including Hindi, Telugu, Marathi, Gujarati, Punjabi, Malayalam, Bengali, Tamil, Kannada, Odia, Bhojpuri, Assamese, Rajasthani and Haryanavi, which allows users all over the country to connect with rural and semi-urban population to connect with the world. On the same pattern, Kwai and the LIKE have been downloaded by millions of smartphone users in tier-2 and tier-3 cities who are using them to share personal videos. As per the data, last year Likee formerly known as LIKE was the third-most downloaded app in India. Here, it has approx 64 percent of users. For consumers who cannot afford tech savvy smartphones or have limited data with slow wifi can access the facilities of good smartphones with UC Browser, a mobile ISP. The search engine is developed by UCweb, a company owned by Alibaba group (A Chinese company and among the richest in the world) and is very popular with people who own very low budget phones. Because the app can compress data, speed up navigation and help users save a lot of cellular data traffic. According to The Techy, a website about apps, it was found that this ISP also poses a risk to mobile user’s security and privacy.
Well, the rise of these Chinese apps highlights that the videos are the future of the Internet in India. A decade before the rural girls and women were dared little to put their profiles on Facebook but now they are uploading their videos freely on these apps. Apps like TikTok enable rural Indians especially women to express themselves by making and uploading their creative videos.
Another vital reason behind the tremendous growth of these Chinese apps is that they allow people to express themselves even if they do not have the talent of the gab. So anyone who feels ostracised on platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter about showing their talent and intelligence may find comfort on easy to handle apps like TikTok, Hola and Like because they provide space to those who feel left out on other primarily-text platforms, either because of literacy or language inadequacy. But we also cannot ignore the threats which invade our privacy and sometimes proves dangerous to innocent users.