A contingency of the Aadhaar program, a government-baked biometric identity initiative supported by developed in a government-funded lab, India’s request that the world’s top smartphone makers include the tech could become an ultimatum, reports Bloomberg.
Ajay Bhushan Pandey, who heads the Unique Identification Authority of India, called for the meeting “a few weeks ago.” Along with Apple’s refusal to attend, those companies that were present were reportedly non-committal despite Pandey’s urgings.
“Go to your headquarters and work this out so that we can have Aadhaar-registered devices,” Pandey reportedly said at the meeting.
An Aadhaar-compatible device offers two forms of authentication: India’s Aadhaar biometrics and, if available, a first-party solution like Apple’s Touch ID. Users would be able to unlock their device and authenticate purchases via Touch ID as normal. Once Aadhaar is accessed, presumably through a dedicated app, its own security and encryption protocols take over, effectively locking out manufacturer safeguards. The mechanism is worrisome for both companies concerned with user privacy and unfettered access to user data, alike.
With Aadhaar in place, India’s government is better equipped to fend off criminals looking to take advantage of the country’s welfare system, the report said. At the same time, the program is used to send welfare allowances, pension and work payments directly to the bank accounts of millions of undeserved citizens. Electronic funds transfers appear to play a key role in Aadhaar’s rollout, a feature designed to stimulate use of financial institutions in a country where such services are only now taking root.
India is only asking manufacturers to consider Aadhaar integration at this time Samsung already markets a compatible tablet in the region — but the country could choose to mandate implementation. For Apple, Aadhaar represents yet another roadblock to breaking into the Indian market. Aside from user privacy implications, Aadhaar might also pose problematic for Apple’s rollout of Apple Pay, as India recently activated a digital payments infrastructure latticed to its home-brew biometric framework.
Apple has for years sought approval to open and operate branded brick-and-mortar stores in India, but regional foreign direct investment trade policies have effectively hampered those efforts. Previous reports indicate members of the Indian government, including the cabinet of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, are willing to work with Apple on a potential resolution, though an official Apple store has yet to open in the country.