Reviewing overseas apps in China 'remains a challenge'
China has tightened its management of the Internet on mobile platforms, requiring app providers to adopt real-name registrations for its users and monitor illegal content from smartphone apps.
The new rule, which authorities said was enacted to protect app users from the growing threat of terrorism, pornography, fraud and information theft, will affect all app stores at home and abroad, including Apple's App Store that enjoys a large presence in China.
The app rule is part of China's efforts to better manage the Internet and ensure security in cyberspace.
The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) released Tuesday six requirements for mobile app providers when operating in China, including the verification of users' identities based on their mobile phone numbers and other information, and not using the users' personal information without their consent.
The CAC also requires app providers to more closely monitor content. When illegal information is discovered, app providers are supposed to issue a warning, limit certain functions or suspend the person's account.
According to the regulations, app providers are forbidden from stealthily collecting users' location information and reading contact information, and are required to record user logs and preserve the information for at least 60 days.
"This is the first time the CAC has made rules focused on the apps market. The regulation serves as a basis for law enforcement. For example, the 60-day period could be used to gather evidence in criminal cases," said Wang Sixin, a law professor at the Communication University of China.
Wang told the Global Times on Tuesday that the new rules could help standardize the thriving mobile apps market and deter unlawful providers who have used apps to violate users' rights.
The mobile apps market has grown to 4 million apps in China, but illegal providers use apps to spread illicit content, steal users' personal information or engage in fraud, according to the CAC.
According to the draft cyber security law submitted to the top legislature on second reading on Monday, network operators must comply with social and business ethics and accept being supervised by both the government and the public.
The draft law states that big data applications must make information anonymous, and clearly define limits on the use of citizens' personal information, according to the Xinhua News Agency.
Aside from app providers, the new CAC regulation also requires app stores to strictly review app providers.
App stores should review the authenticity, security and legitimacy of the providers' identities, urge them to offer complete instructions to users, and monitor piracy.
Wang said that before Tuesday's regulation, app stores, including Android and Apple app stores, adopted their own rules on reviewing apps, but they mostly involved the quality of apps but lacked a standard.
"The regulation may affect the operations of Android app stores in China more than Apple's App Store since the former have lower access thresholds for app providers," Shen Yi, deputy director of the cyberspace management center at Fudan University, told the Global Times.
Almost every smartphone maker in China has its proprietary app store preinstalled in its phones. Many other IT companies, including China search giant Baidu, have app stores available to mobile users.
Though Apple boasts of high safety standards in screening apps, loopholes remain.
An employee surnamed Yu from a Guangxi-based Internet company said that his company could help app developers get an approval within 24 hours since they "have relations with the reviewing team at app stores."
Yu said the CAC regulation may have little influence on his business at the moment, since it will take a long time before the app stores enforce the new regulation.
It shows that reviewing overseas mobile app providers and app stores operating in China remains a major challenge for authorities, since different countries have their own standards for the mobile app market, said Shen.
He said authorities should be more transparent when managing the mobile app market to ensure fairness for all app providers or stores.
Apple could not be reached for comment as of press time.
Other app stores the Global Times reached on Tuesday also declined to comment.
In a statement sent to the Global Times on Tuesday, Baidu said it has been screening all apps on its app store platform, removing those that violated State regulations and punishes the app developers.
Users can also report to Baidu whenever they find malicious apps, the statement said.
The CAC also requires app providers to respect and protect intellectual property (IP)rights and not to develop or publish apps that violate other people's IP rights.