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Wednesday, July 24, 2024  
17 Muharram 1446  

Alternative to internet outage during election: will govt block these apps?

Political workers have been calling for developing an offline app amid internet shutdown
Photo - AFP/File
Photo - AFP/File

In case of an internet shutdown, political workers may resort to using some apps that can transmit data without an internet connection during the election.

The discussion around such apps, also called offline applications, began when the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) alleged that their party website was blocked by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) in an attempt to stop voters from knowing about party candidates and their election symbols.

Several accounts affiliated with the PTI on X, formerly known as Twitter, suggested developing an offline app that could be used to know about candidates, their constituencies, and election symbols during the February 8 polls.

A question arises here about these apps’ working methods and their impact in the case of an internet shutdown.

Most mobile apps require a cellphone signal or internet connection to collect and synchronise data. The users get instant updates in the apps as soon as they connect to the internet either through phone signal or Wi-Fi.

On the other hand, offline mobile apps assist users in accessing data provided by the developer without having to worry about a Wi-Fi or cell signal.

The users will still need an internet connection to download the app or choose to receive the updated Android Package (APK) of the app from others who have the package on their mobile phones or desktops through Bluetooth or Zapya.

However, there are limitations to data and synchronisation in the offline apps as users will not get the latest updates without connecting to an internet connection and receiving the latest information added by the developer.

The apps will still help download content from the server while connected to the internet.

Amazon Kindle tops the list of apps to work without the internet, allowing users to purchase books or download free ones from their vast library.

Once downloaded to the device, users will be able to access these books offline.

Google Drive, an app used offline by many without noticing, not only allows to view files, but users can also create new files and edit existing ones.

Google Translate, Google Maps and Spotify are among notable apps which can be used offline.

Can govt block people from accessing offline apps?

Many in the United States including Donald Trump had been calling for a ban on social media platform TikTok, accusing it of stealing US nationals’ data and likely to leak data related to national security.

According to a BBC report, the US government may enforce the ban by ordering app stores, such as those operated by Apple and Google, to remove TikTok from their platforms.

People could no longer download the app, however, those who already have the app would still have it on their phones, according to a report published on March 23, 2023.

Also, there is a way around the ban in the shape of VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) that provide an encrypted server and protect the identity of users by hiding their IP address.

The Indian government banned TikTok in 2020 and directed internet service providers (ISPs) to block the social media platform altogether.

Soon after the ban, several variants of the app popped up online, which people downloaded to their devices while APKs were extensively used as a substitute.

Others resorted to using VPNs which makes it appear as if you are based in a different country or region.

In a similar case in Pakistan in 2022, a PTA official told a court that a VPN was used to download an app that was removed from Google App Store in Pakistan.

The Peshawar High Court was hearing a case about permanently blocking the Android app ‘Baby Kaba’ in the country for ‘carrying blasphemous content’ in October 2022.

PTA’s Jehanzeb Mehsud informed the court that the availability of the app was a technical issue and the VPN was out of the authority’s control.

With such cases on the local and international front, it is not clear how the government plans to combat such tactics of developing offline apps and most importantly block access to them.

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Pakistan Telecommunication Authority

Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf

mobile application

Information Technology

8 February

election 2024