Google takes down Indian ‘Remove China’ app

PALO ALTO/NEW DELHI — Google has moved to cut access to an app that became hugely popular in India after it promised to help users identify and remove smartphone services linked to China, at a time of escalating tension between the Asian rivals.

The U.S. search giant took the app — called Remove China Apps — from its Google Play Store on Tuesday. Google acted over violation of its deceptive behavior policy, the Nikkei Asian Review has learned.

Remove China Apps, which claimed to be “educational,” had briefly been the most popular in India’s store, being downloaded more than 1 million times within 10 days of launch.

The app enabled users to detect where any apps on their phones were from and delete them if desired, according to its developer, Jaipur-based OneTouch AppLabs.

OneTouch AppLabs announced that the app had been suspended from the Play store on a tweet Wednesday morning but did not confirm why the app was removed.

Remove China Apps gained popularity in India amid rising anti-China sentiment after Chinese soldiers moved into what India sees its territory along the disputed Himalayan border between the two countries.

The latest tensions appear to be the worst since the 2017 standoff at the Doklam plateau, which lasted 73 days and was the longest such confrontation in decades between the two nuclear-armed countries. They share a 3,500 km border over which they fought a war in 1962.

India has also grown increasingly concerned at the prevalence of Chinese companies in the economy. In April, New Delhi moved to tighten rules that allow it to block “opportunistic” investment from its neighbor.

The hashtag #BoycottChineseProducts is trending on Twitter, with many Indians, including Bollywood celebrities, pledging to stop using Chinese goods.

On its website OneTouch AppLabs cited Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call last month for India to become “self-reliant”.

It said its app would help people to support the policy by identifying the origin country of apps installed on their phones.

Google prohibits apps that “attempt to deceive users or enable dishonest behavior,” according to the Play Store website. Google also prohibits apps from encouraging or incentivizing users into removing or disabling third-party apps unless it is part of a verifiable security service. It also bans apps in Google Play Store from making changes to a user’s device settings or features outside of the app without the user’s knowledge and consent.

According to the TechCrunch website, some users of Remove China Apps found that it flagged content with no clear China link, including U.S. videoconferencing app Zoom.

OneTouch AppLabs published a disclaimer on its website that Remove China Apps was “being developed for educational purposes only … we do not promote or force people to uninstall any of the application(s).”

Meanwhile, Google Play Store also appears to have removed another popular app, Mitron, a video sharing platform that was touted as an answer to TikTok. It became instant hit in India after being launched in April and reportedly had over 5 million downloads.

Mitron, which means friends in Hindi, is a word Modi uses often to address countrymen in his speeches.

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