Great Firewall of China: Requires Registration of Apps, Tightening Oversight...

China Tightens Apps Oversight
Beijing begins requiring the country’s hundreds of internet app stores to register with the state

By EVA DOU Jan. 16, 2017 7:00 a.m. ET

BEIJING—Plugging a gap in the Great Firewall, China on Monday began requiring internet app stores to register with the state.

China has long censored websites, barring outlawed content such as pornography, the promotion of illegal activity including terrorism and “rumors,” a term regulators often apply to antigovernment statements.

But apps create a special challenge for government censors, experts say, because they often incorporate a wide variety of functions and serve as platforms for users to exchange information, making them harder to oversee. They are also multiplying quickly.

“It’s almost impossible for the regulators to register and supervise all the millions of apps there one by one,” said Zhu Wei, deputy director of the Communications Law Research Center at the China University of Political Science and Law. “The government is managing the app stores, and stores are managing the app developers according to law.”

The Cyberspace Administration of China, which announced new regulations on content distributed by apps in August, followed up Friday by notifying app stores that starting Monday they must register with the CAC.

“Some app distributors did not strictly review apps before putting them on the shelf, which resulted in some apps spreading illegal information, violating users’ rights and interests and bringing security risks,” the CAC statement read.

Earlier this month, Apple Inc. said it had pulled the New York Times’ app from its Chinese app store after a request from Chinese authorities. The new registration requirement, however, appears directed at new app stores that are cropping up rather than at larger distributors, with which regulators are already in regular contact.

In addition to banned content such as pornography, the state-run National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team/Coordination Center of China has warned consumers against malicious apps, including ones that harvest personal information and levy charges without their knowledge.

The U.S.-China Business Council declined to comment on the new requirement.

China’s authorities rely heavily on internet companies to censor themselves in the world’s largest mobile market, which is both fast-growing and fragmented, with hundreds of suppliers—in contrast with the U.S., where Google Play and Apple Inc.’s App Store dominate.

China’s most popular Android-based app stores, run by Baidu Inc. and Tencent Holdings Ltd., both had more than 200 million active users in the third quarter of 2016, according to the research firm Analysys.

—Yang Jie contributed to this article.


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