Chinese BAT and American FAANG : Bharat’s fight for digital sovereignty

Recently, the Government of Bharat notified an order banning 59 Chinese apps on Google Play store and on App Store of Apple. Many commentators have hailed the news, while many others have dismissed it as futile. Many journalists, who are known to be hostile to the current government, claimed that it will make many Bharatiya ‘Tiktok stars’, unemployed. Some even said that the government should return the Rs. 30 crores that TikTok raised through Bharatiyas on its platform and then donated to PMCARES!

This article will sidestep such facetious arguments and try to explore how the decision impacts interests of Bharat. Today data is the most valuable commodity in the world. Consequently, digital sovereignty is becoming more important every day. Most countries with global ambitions have their own ecosystems of digital economy, these include the Chinese BAT and Amercian FAANG.

The three ecosystems

These ecosystems consist of apps and services in the areas like : internet search, social media, messaging, and e-commerce. The digital ecosystem also includes manufacturers of hardware parts like communication equipments, cellphones etc. However, we restrict ourselves to the apps and services part in this article.

These apps and services are controlled from within the countries of their origin, are regulated by the local laws and often have close connections with the governments.

American FAANG

The first such ecosystem was built in USA. It was natural as the internet was born in that country and it was home of many innovative companies. This ecosystem is very large but the five biggest companies of this ecosystem dominate the digital world. These are called FAANG : Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google. All of us are aware of these companies and cannot imagine digital world without these. It must be remembered that WhatsApp and Instagram are also part of Facebook, YouTube and Android are owned by Google and Alexa Smart devices and Kindle eReader are brands of Amazon.

These companies are closely monitored by American Congress and are subject to American laws. For some reason, none of these services is allowed in Communist China.

Chinese BAT

China closed itself against the world by creating the Great Chinese Firewall. Only the websites that were deemed as non-threatening to Chinese Communist Party (CCP) were allowed in. It is interesting to note that all references to Winnie the Pooh, the cartoon character, are removed from China’s controlled internet as it resembled their leader Xi Xinping.

Except Apple {iPhones}, CCP does not allow any of the FAANG companies in its country. The relationship with apple is also with many conditions. Thus you cannot use Facebook, Google, YouTube, Netflix, Amazon or even Twitter in China. It has blocked even Wikipedia.

They have instead developed their own ecosystem which is dominated by three companies collectively known as BAT : Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent.

Baidu is China’s search engine, and own a streaming service like Netflix. Alibaba is the e-commerce giant with investments in multiple other areas. Tencent is the videogame giant which also owns WeChat, a messaging platform. Other important social media companies of China include Sina Weibo, its answer to Twitter and TikTok, a wildly popular platform for short videos owned by ByteDance.

All these companies reportedly have close links with Chinese Communist Party. There are also allegations of stealing of data of their users, specially by TikTok.

Russian

Russia has banned many of the services of the FAANG companies citing reasons such as “suspected in extremism”, “calling for illegal meetings”, “inciting hatred” and “violating the established order”.

Russia also has its own ecosystem of popular apps. It includes the messaging app Telegram, which is used by a large number of organisations and people for its advanced security features and flexibility. It has companies like Yandex, Mail.ru, and a prominent Russian social media site named VKontakte or VK.

Situation in Bharat

Bharat has a lot of talented software engineers. Indeed, we export a lot of them and a substantial portion of those working in FAANG companies are of Bharatiya origin. Indeed, many Bharatiyas are in leadership positions in these companies. However, we still have not been able to develop a similar ecosystem of our own.

Digital colonization

We are dependent largely on FAANG companies. The most used search engine in Bharat is Google. The most used social media services are Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the most used messaging apps are WhatsApp and Telegram. We post our content on streaming services like YouTube and get entertainment from Netflix and Prime. The biggest e-commerce companies are Amazon, followed by Flipkart.

None of the companies mentioned above are under control of Bharatiyas, but these have huge amount of data on us and get a large portion of their revenues from Bharat. We have once again been made the consumers of foreign services and suppliers of data and low level workers. This has striking similarity with 19th and 20th century colonialism, in which were reduced to raw material suppliers and consumers of finished industrial goods. We did export labor even in those times!

Availability of talent

It is not as if Bharat does not have the talent. Our capable engineers made the BHIM app and UPI possible, which is a world class service, in record time. We have implemented Aadhaar, we have recently launched and successfully used Arogya Setu. Thus we have capability to think big and execute large projects.

Google is currently headed by Sundar Pichai and Microsoft by Satya Nadella. So, people of Bharatiya-origin are there at top and mid level of foreign companies too.

The opportunity : how to grab it?

The banning of Chinese apps creates a vacuum in certain areas. People are already searching for the replacement of apps like TikTok, Cam Scanner and Shareit. This opens up a wonderful opportunity for Bharatiya developers, startups and companies. Jio has already been trying to create its own ecosystem with an array of apps. We also have some productivity apps from Zoho, headed by Sridhar Vembu.

Capital

The biggest hurdle in this could be the lack of capital. Many of the efforts in this space could be by new startups that do not have the liquidity to scale up their apps and services. The role of big companies and the government is very important in such a case. Both of these can come up with a plan to jump-start the innovation by creating conditions for infusion of capital as well as directly investing in ideas with huge potential.

Conclusion

There will be many challenges in near future. First will be the continued illegal use of banned apps. There are marketplaces other than Google Play where you can download the applications. Many people will try to get around the ban by using VPNs etc.

Every crisis is an opportunity. Indeed, almost all the economic reforms in Bharat have come at the times of crises. The digital world should be treated as an extension of the real world. Indeed, it is a source of revenue running into billions of dollars for the large digital companies. At this juncture, Bharat has a choice to make. This will decide if we will remain a consumer or will unleash our creative powers and regain digital sovereignty.

(Featured image source: The Economist)


Did you like this article? We’re a non-profit. Make a donation and help pay for our journalism. 

HinduPost is now on Telegram. For the best reports & opinion on issues concerning Hindu society, subscribe to HinduPost on Telegram.

About the Author

Pawan Pandey
Pawan Pandey is an Educator based in Dehradun, currently working as Senior Staff Writer with HinduPost. He is an Engineer by training and a teacher by passion. He teaches for Civil Service Exams as well as for Common Law Admission Test. He has deep interest in politics, economy, culture and all things Bharatiya. He fancies himself to be a loving husband and doting father. His weakness is Bharatiya food, particularly sweets. His hobbies include reading, writing and listening to Bharatiya music.