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India thinks it knows more than Apple or Google about smartphone security

Removable apps in iOS exist

India wants new security rules forcing smartphone producers like Apple to allow governmental pre-screening of operating system updates, such as for iOS, as well as enabling the removal of pre-installed apps.

India's IT ministry considers software a security weak point that needs to be checked over spying and abuse concerns, a senior government official claims. Under the fear of being spied on by China and other governments, new rules are being planned to try and curb any potential issues.

"Preinstalled apps can be a weak security point and we want to ensure no foreign nations, including China, are exploiting it," the unnamed official said to Reuters. "It's a matter of national security."

So far, the initiative hasn't officially been raised in public by the Indian government.

The report was informed of the rule discussions via two unnamed sources, as well as being provided access to a document about the changes. The document mentions a confidential February 8 meeting with smartphone vendors, with Apple accompanied by representatives of Xiaomi, Samsung, and Vivo.

"Majority of smartphones used in India are having pre-installed Apps/Bloatware which poses serious privacy/information security issues," the document reads.

There is also a consideration that the government could introduce mandatory screening of major operating system updates, before they get issued to user devices.

Apple has allowed a large number of preinstalled apps to be removed from iOS, bringing the total to 30 in iOS 16, though the new rules could force Apple into allowing any remaining apps to be removable too.

However, one industry executive pointed out to the report that some preinstalled apps are crucial to the user experience, such as the camera or the Settings app, and that the government must make a distinction on what should be removable.

If put into effect, the government has declared that smartphone producers will have one year to comply.