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Indian government plans to force smartphone makers to allow removal of pre-installed apps and mandate screening of updates

The move comes as a response to concerns about potential spying and user data abuse in the country. Manufacturers have been given a one-year deadline to comply with the new security rules.

According to sources and a government document viewed by Reuters, the Indian government is considering implementing new security regulations that would require smartphone manufacturers to allow users to remove pre-installed apps and screen major operating system updates. This is in response to concerns over the potential for spying and user data abuse.

“Majority of smartphones used in India are having pre-installed Apps/Bloatware which poses serious privacy/information security issue(s),” stated a Feb. 8 confidential government record of an IT ministry meeting, seen by Reuters.

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“Pre-installed apps can be a weak security point and we want to ensure no foreign nations, including China, are exploiting it. It’s a matter of national security,” an official in the IT ministry stated. It is worth mentioning that the Indian government is developing a mobile operating system called Bharat OS, which would offer a similar feature allowing users to remove pre-installed applications.

Currently, several popular smartphone brands such as Xiaomi, Samsung, and Apple have pre-installed applications that cannot be deleted. In addition, many Android manufacturers have partnerships with companies like Meta and Snap for their own pre-installed applications.

As per two individuals familiar with the plan, the proposed regulations would require smartphone manufacturers to offer an option to uninstall pre-installed applications, and new models would need to be evaluated for compliance by a laboratory authorized by the Bureau of Indian Standards agency. Additionally, one of the sources noted that the government is contemplating enforcing screening measures for every major operating system update before it is released to the public.

According to the meeting record, representatives from Xiaomi, Samsung, Apple, and Vivo were present at the closed-door meeting in which the new rules were discussed.

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The document stated that the government intends to grant smartphone manufacturers a one-year period to adhere to the regulations after the date of implementation, which has not yet been established. While European Union regulations mandate that pre-installed applications must be removable, they do not include a screening mechanism to ensure compliance, which is being considered in India.

According to an industry executive, certain pre-installed applications, such as the camera, are vital for providing a satisfactory user experience. As a result, the government must differentiate between these and non-essential applications while imposing screening regulations.

Smartphone manufacturers frequently include proprietary applications with their devices, as well as pre-installing third-party applications with which they have financial agreements. Another concern raised by a second industry executive is that more testing may prolong the approval timeline for smartphones. Currently, the government agency takes approximately 21 weeks to test smartphones and their components for safety compliance.

The new regulations, which have not been previously disclosed, have the potential to extend the launch timeline in the world’s second-largest smartphone market and result in losses for manufacturers from pre-installed applications.

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