Did India quietly ban VLC media player for its Chinese connection?

The open source multimedia player's website and download link have not been working in India since Feb. 13.
Looking for answers.
Looking for answers.
Photo: Toru Hanai (Reuters)
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Indians can’t download the VLC Media player anymore.

The VLC website and link to install it have been down in India since February 13, according to Jean-Baptiste Kemp, president of Paris-based non-profit VideoLAN, which owns the multimedia player.

“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,” Kemp wrote on Y Combinator-run Hacker News. “The weirdest is that some ISPs are blocking it and some are not. So why is that the case? Are some ISP not listening to the government?”

The alleged ban on the free and open source cross-platform multimedia player has baffled many.

Why are VLC downloads barred in India?

In recent times, India has banned hundreds of Chinese apps, stepped up scrutiny of firms from that country, and contemplated eliminating affordable Chinese phones, too.

One theory suggests VLC’s Chinese connection could’ve put it on that blacklist. Cicada, a hacking group allegedly backed by the Chinese government, uses VLC Media Player to deploy malicious malware attacks.

However, the move may prove to be counterproductive. The Cicada-style cyberattack works only with an outdated version of VLC. Banning VLC is likely push people to shadier download sites and older versions.

In his statement, VideoLAN’s Kemp emphasised that his company and its products “are quite apolitical (we only fight against DRM and for open source) and VLC is a pure tool that can read anything.”

The Indian government, meanwhile, has not announced a ban or given a reason for it. Replying to a right to information (RTI) petition, it claimed to have “no information” on the matter.

There’s a chance that the VLC ban is “collateral damage,” a comment on Kemp’s Hacker News post suggested.

“They want to block something else, but there is no technical possibility to block that without also blocking your website. This also explains variation between ISPs: There is no centralised solution for blocking,” a commenter named Patrakov explained.

Are any VLC media players still working?

Users who already have the software installed are still able to access it.

Because VLC works perfectly without our servers: we don’t collect info, we don’t require user accounts, we don’t spy on people (telemetry).
So once you have VLC, you don’t need our servers, for it to work.

Yes, it is sadly rare those days…

— VideoLAN (@videolan) August 14, 2022

The media player is still available for download on the Apple app store and Google play store for smaller devices.