Apple, Google poised for showdown with India over smartphone authentication

After making it mandatory for all new mobile phones to have GPS and a panic button, India now wants inclusion of its homegrown authentication on all smartphones running Android, iOS and other operating systems in the country.

The Indian government has held talks with major players including Google, Samsung and Microsoft for adding its biometric authentication system, Aadhaar (which means foundation in Hindi), to their respective mobile operating systems.

If they decide to not add Aadhaar, which consists of fingerprint and iris-scan data of over one billion Indians, the government could limit their reach in the country. India is the world’s fastest growing smartphone market, and is also a home to over 300 million smartphone users.

The Indian government plans to encrypt Aadhaar-enabled smartphones with a UIDAI key, and connect them to the Aadhaar server, The Economic Times reported earlier. UIDAI or the Unique Identification Authority of India is the government agency behind Aadhaar. The Indian government claims that over 80 percent of the country’s population has an Aadhaar card.

The move is aimed to make every smartphone Aadhaar enabled and encrypted with the UIDAI key. With fingerprint sensors available on most smartphones these days, the government is looking at ways on how a smartphone could be used for identification and authentication purposes.

Apple, Google and others may resist opening up their phones to Indian government’s encryption and security technology. Apple didn’t even attend a meeting hosted by Indian officials recently,Bloomberg adds.

Commenting on the meeting, Ajay Bhushan Pandey, who oversees UIDAI, said the government politely asked the companies to, “Go to [their] headquarters and work this out so that we can have Aadhaar-registered devices.”

The initial response of these companies have been “positive,” Bhushan told the Economic Times recently. Earlier this year, Samsung launched the Galaxy Tab Iris tablet in India. At the time of launch, Samsung executives said the Tab Iris was “ready for Aadhaar authentication through an integrated and highly secure biometric device.”

India began its Aadhaar initiative in 2010, and has since connected over 80 percent of the population to it. The government recently also integrated Aadhaar with its “Unified Payments Interface” that turns every smartphone into a bank. Banking and financial institutions in India are increasingly adopting the UPI protocol. The government is also trickling Aadhaar-based system to transportation and other sectors.

We will have to wait to see how the government’s “polite” request sits with other companies in the coming months. Earlier this year, the Indian government made it mandatory for all new phones starting 2017 to include have a GPS sensor and a panic button. These features would provide emergency assistance to women, the government said.