China Continues to Crack Down on App Stores – Tightens App Oversight

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Jan 16, 2017
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China has remained at the front of online censorship, regularly banning content that is deemed critical of the ruling party and censoring websites, among other similar things. The government is notorious for having a tight grip on its users as it employs a huge number of professional trolls and “experts,” along with its Great Firewall that monitors and dictates what the people inside the country can access online.

Expanding its control further, the Chinese government has started to demand the country’s hundreds of internet app stores to register with the State. The Cyberspace Administration of China has issued an order that requires that app stores must register with the government in order to continue operating legally in the country. The move goes into effect from today, January 16.

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“Many apps have been found to spread illegal information, violate user rights or contain security risks,” the CAC said in a notice published late Friday (via the NYT). The post went on to say that the motivation behind this requirement of registration was to ensure user protection. Registration will make it clearly visible who is responsible for each store, making it easier for the government to take action when an app or an app store is found to be practicing something illegal.

China orders app stores to register with the government

Since last year Beijing has been trying to have better control over app stores, banning apps that are deemed to endanger national security or disrupt social order. The Chinese government – as we have detailed in a previous report – uses these terms very broadly, which makes it difficult for app makers to see what would be considered sensitive by the government censors.

The app stores, up until now, were considered the Wild West of Chinese Internet, as the government lacked the strict control that it has over traditional media, social media sites, and other websites. It is difficult for the government censors to have a similar control on app stores because of the marketplace fragmentation. So far, the country has blocked Google’s Play Store and managed to receive a much-sanitized version of Apple’s App Store. Apple recently took down the New York Times apps (both English and Chinese) from its Chinese store. The Chinese government had told Apple they were in breach of local regulations. The NYT, however, said neither Apple nor China specified which regulations were violated.

Even with the latest ruling, it will be challenging for the government to have the similar kind of monitoring of the apps, considering the sheer number of third-party app stores and millions of apps hosted by each store.

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

This essentially means the latest notice places responsibility for policing apps on the app stores themselves. It will be interesting to see how China plans to exert complete control over a segment that multiplies so quickly and over so many different stores.

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