Apple's Refusal to Approve India's Anti-Spam App Angers Regulators
Apple is coming under pressure from India’s telecom regulator to add a government anti-spam mobile application to its App Store, in the latest manifestation of tensions over digital privacy. The Do Not Disturb app, launched by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India in July last year, allows users to file complaints about unsolicited commercial calls. But Apple has so far resisted the regulator’s proposal that the app be made available to Indian iPhone users. A person with direct knowledge of the talks said Apple’s stance stemmed in part from worries about data privacy, with concerns that the app would gain access to users’ full call history.
The regulatory pressure comes after India’s supreme court last month overruled government objections to declare privacy a fundamental right. The landmark ruling was triggered by objections to government efforts to widen the scope of a biometric identification system that has signed up more than 1bn citizens. Proponents argue the scheme helps poor Indians gain access to vital services, but critics say it could become a tool of state surveillance.
Apple’s tense regulatory discussions come as it continues long-running, sporadic talks with the government that could lead to the commercial manufacturing of iPhones in India. Wistron, Apple’s Taiwanese supplier, has performed a test run at a factory in Bangalore, but the US group has argued that it will need concessions on import duty for components if it is to start full-scale production. The person close to the talks said that they are continuing, noting that Apple has strict requirements for the apps included on the App Store.
Other government-sponsored apps have enjoyed a warmer reception, such as Bhim, launched last December, which enables smartphone users to send money between bank accounts more swiftly than with banks’ proprietary apps. Some telecoms companies, meanwhile, have enthusiastically supported the government’s efforts. A new budget smartphone announced by Reliance Jio, controlled by Mukesh Ambani, the oil refining tycoon, comes preloaded with Mr Modi’s official app, which offers regular messages and updates on his activities.
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