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VLC Media Player Banned in India?

VideoLAN has officially confirmed the ban that almost no one noticed. The official reason behind the ban hasn’t been revealed yet but some reports suggest that VLC Media Player has been banned because the platform was used by China-backed hacking group Cicada for cyber attacks.

VLC Media Player is one of the most popular apps when it comes to video streaming. We all know just how popular, the VLC media player was when it came to watching movies, and TV shows. However, it looks like the VLC Media player website is banned in India and the ban appears to have been in place since March this year, according to an earlier report by Medianama.

The application started in France and developed by VideoLAN, has a very modular design, which enables it to include modules/plugins for new file formats, codecs, interfaces or streaming methods. It supports audio and video compression methods and file formats including Video CD, DVD-Video and streaming protocols. It transcodes multimedia files and streams media over computer networks.

The developer of VLC Media Player, VideoLAN, said that the media player was banned in India. To be specific, VLC Media Player was banned in India on February 13, according to media reports. The VLC website and the download link have been down since then. However, the android version of the application is still available on Google Play Store and iOS app store for existing users. New users are not allowed to download the app. And if you have the player installed on your laptop, it should work fine. The company says it has no clue why the government banned the platform. Here are 5 things we know about the VLC ban in India so far..

A Twitter User reported the ban

Gagandeep Sapra, a twitter user displays through his tweet, what description a user gets when he/she tries to download the app. His tweet mentions, “The website has been blocked as per order of the Ministry of Electronics and Information technology under IT Act,2000,” as reported by IE.

According to the section 69A of the IT Act 2000, the Union government has the power to ban/restrict applications and websites that threaten security, integrity and sovereignty of the nation, following due procedure.

Chinese Links behind VLC Ban?

The VLC media player was infiltrated with malware by a hacker group named ‘Cicada' with Chinese links. Some reports mentioned the reason behind the ban of the player — its link with China. Indian user data was being sent abroad and cyberattacks were launched in India.

Symantec cyber-security researchers find that the 'Cicada group' installs malwares on compromised devices using VLC media player to target high profile dignitaries. Cicada victims have been found in India, the US, Canada, Israel, Hong Kong and several other countries around the world, quoted Zee News.

No official word has been received from the government. However, VideoLAN President Jean-Baptiste Kempf commenting on the ban said, “We got banned since February 13 this year and we don’t know why. We have asked the Indian government but got no answer.” as quoted by India Today.

VLC Media Player banned in India

VideoLAN has officially confirmed the ban that almost no one noticed. The official reason behind the ban hasn’t been revealed yet but some reports suggest that VLC Media Player has been banned because the platform was used by China-backed hacking group Cicada for cyber attacks.

The blocked VLC Media Play website shows “the website has been blocked as per order of the Ministry of Electronics and Information technology under IT Act, 2000” message. The act deals with the primary law in India dealing with cybercrime and electronic commerce.

VideoLAN President revealed that the VLC Media Player is working on some ISPs also not for some. Commenting on the ban, the company President said, “we got banned since a few months, and we don’t know why. (According to my stats, it is since the 13 February 2022). We’ve asked the Indian government and we got no answer. We probably did not ask the right place though. I wish I knew how to ask properly.” “The weirdest is that some ISP are blocking it and some are not. So why is that the case? Are some ISP not listening to the government? VLC and VideoLAN are quite apolitical (we only fight against DRM and for open source) and VLC is a pure tool that can read anything,” he added.

VLC’s mobile apps are still available

One of the most popular digital media players, the VLC Media Player app for PCs and Macs has been banned in India. However, the mobile version of the VLC media player app is still available for download on both the Apple App store and Google Play store. The ban that has been imposed isn’t a proper ban, but rather a soft ban. Basically, the government has blocked access to the official VLC media player website, Videolan.org.

In April this year, cybersecurity experts claimed that a hacker group based out of China named Cicada were using VLC Media Player to deliver malware in systems as part of a cyberattack campaign backed by the Chinese government. These hackers mainly targeted users who were downloading their files from the Videolan.org website.

Because the mobile apps are hosted on Google’s PlayStore and Apple’s App Store servers, and not on the servers where the desktop versions are hosted, they are deemed safe and hence have not been banned as reported by firstpost.

India Government says NO Information on VLC Ban

An RTI (Right to Information) request filed by the Internet Freedom Foundation shows that no one knows what is the reason for the ban. The Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) tweeted that they filed the RTI in June with the department of telecom about the website being banned. DOT transferred the request to Meity or the Ministry of Electronics and Information and Technology. Meity’s response on July 14 was that “No information is available [with MeitY]”.

Check out IFF’s thread below:

On June 07, 2022, we filed a Right to Information application with @DoT_India seeking information on the blocking of the website of VideoLAN[dot]org in India. DoT transferred it to @GoI_MeitY, which then responded on July 14 that “No information is available [with MeitY]” (1/4)
— Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) (@internetfreedom)
In our application, we sought information on the grounds on which videolan[dot]org has been blocked for access in India and whether any hearing opportunity was provided to the website owners before the website was blocked for access in India. (2/4)
— Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) (@internetfreedom)
However, in their single-line response, @GoI_MeitY has simply stated that they do not have any such information. We have filed the first appeal on this response, arguing that it is illegal and demonstrates non-application of mind.
— Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) (@internetfreedom)

According to IFF’s tweets, they “sought information on the grounds on which videolan[dot]org has been blocked for access in India and whether any hearing opportunity was provided to the website owners before the website was blocked for access in India.” However, all they got was a single-line response that Meity has no such information.

IFF added in their tweet that they “have filed the first appeal on this response, arguing that it is illegal and demonstrates non-application of mind.”

Indianexpress has reached out to IFF for further statements around the VLC media player ban. All we know right now is that the website cannot be accessed. You can still download the app from the App Store or Google Play Store. And if you have the player installed on your laptop, it should work fine.

VLC Media player’s official Twitter account has also tweeted about the ban, asking for help and appears to be just as clueless about the reason for this ban. Hopefully, there will be some clarity on why the website is not accessible in India.

VideoLan sends legal notice to Indian Government

After waiting to get the answer to RTI queries about the ban, VideoLan (parent company of VLC) has now shot off a strong letter to the government regarding the ban. In the letter VideoLan has threatened legal action The letter also states that the ban is illogical and that VideoLan was never informed about the ban. VideoLan claims that it received no official notice about the ban. Also, it was not given a chance to argue it's case before the ban which is against India 2009 rules that govern blocking of apps as well as website. It is also contrary to the law laid down by the Supreme Court of India.

The letter then notes that if the Indian government fails to provide a reasoning of the ban, VideoLan will be "entitled and compelled to initiate legal proceedings against you, for failing to protect our rights as guaranteed by the Constitution of India, for violation of your obligations under international law, and for breach of your own Rules."

Conclusion

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