India launches contest to build homegrown web browser

Almost certainly based on a FOSS engine, but with tweaks for the nation's particular needs

India's government has decided the nation needs an indigenous web browser and has launched the Indian Web Browser Development Challenge (IWBDC) to make it happen.

The Challenge "seeks to inspire and empower technology enthusiasts, innovators, and developers from all corners of the country to create an indigenous web browser." The desired browser will have its own trust store, use a root certificate from India's Controller of Certifying Authorities, and offer "cutting edge functionalities and enhanced security & data privacy protection features," according to the government announcement.

The ability to "digitally sign documents using a crypto token, bolstering secure transactions and digital interactions" is also on the list of desired features, as is suitability for individuals with diverse abilities.

At the launch of the Challenge, officials said one goal for the browser is to create a tool that complies with Indian regulations on data sovereignty – and perhaps even keeps more traffic within India by creating a supply chain that sees India's National Internet Exchange (NIXI) aware of the indigenous browser.

Reducing reliance on offshore infrastructure is another goal. Yet the Challenge envisages developers will work with open source browser engines and both modify that code and develop plug-ins that deliver the desired features and functions.

The Challenge wants a browser that can run on PCs, smartphones, tablets, and even in automotive environments. It is nothing if not ambitious.

The scheme will see participants submit a proposal, with 18 to be shortlisted in the first round, before eight applicants make it to a second stage of development. A winner, first runner up and second runner-up will be named. The winner will be offered assistance to develop their browser "to next levels" – a term that has not been defined.

A prize pool of $411,000 is on offer to participants, along with mentorship from NIXI and other experts.

India has done this sort of thing before. In 2020 The Register reported on a similar scheme that promoted development of a home-grown Zoom clone. We've seen no evidence since that the winning product – called "Vconsol" – has been widely adopted or caused any sleepless nights for competitors.

An indigenous browser could be more troublesome for market leaders Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Mozilla. India's colossal population, and its ardor for local products, could propel a local browser to a user base in the hundreds of millions – perhaps even a billion. That's a lot of users who perhaps wouldn't be signed in to Big Tech's online services and are therefore harder to track for advertising purposes.

India won't mind that one bit: the nation recognizes that Big Tech can help it to develop and grow, but is leery of the potential for foreign entities to gain and exercise control over crucial areas of its economy. A local browser that gives Indian orgs an easier ride is therefore an extension of existing tech policies. ®

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