India is once again targeting bloatware that typically ships with many Android phones, a new report from Reuters (opens in new tab) claims. Citing two sources and a government document, the report states that the country would force the removal of all pre-installed apps, as well as mandatory pre-screening of software updates.
Smartphones – with the exception of Apple and Google in most cases – usually come with pre-installed apps and services from the likes of Facebook and various third-party app and game providers. This is done by manufacturers in collaboration with these companies to reduce costs and sell their phones cheaper. Some, like Apple and Google, pre-install their own apps on their phones, not only to improve features, but also to grow their user base when it comes to services. For example, Apple Music and the associated Apple One service benefit very well from iPhone sales, while Google Photos and the associated plan (check out our Google One review for more) benefit from Android phone sales.
The Indian government is targeting all of these practices and considers both first and third party non-deletable apps to be unacceptable, with some exceptions for basic apps. A camera app would be necessary for most, but would a music or browser app pass? India is setting up a compliance board to monitor. If they fall short, smartphones could face additional testing times and costs, leading to delayed launches and more expensive phones.
“The majority of smartphones used in India have pre-installed apps/bloatware that pose serious privacy/information security issues,” Reuters quotes a government meeting report as saying. Given that most of its mobile market is dominated by foreign players from China, South Korea and the US, the concerns may not be unfounded.
An established practice that is now facing global resistance
India is not the first to take such a step, and it certainly won’t be the last. Privacy has been at the top of the EU list for years and if companies make concessions for one market, the case for similar changes in European markets will only get stronger. The DSA and DMA already talked about uninstalling pre-installed apps.
India already had it forceLED (opens in new tab) Google is going to make changes to Android’s installation practices, allowing manufacturers to select which Google apps they want to pre-install, as opposed to a wholesale package. The company also opened up third-party app billing to allow developers to link their own payment processors and bypass the Google Play payment system. This movement is a bit broader and extends beyond Google to even Apple.
That said, many affected companies would be Chinese brands such as Xiaomi and Oppo, which typically ship products at lower prices than Samsung or Apple. These are partially subsidized by the bundled apps targeted by this new move. If these rules come into effect, more judicious device selections could be seen globally as manufacturers factor in the new costs.