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Apple Comply with China App Censorship Rules, Poses Challenges for Developers

Updated: Jan 8

Apple's recent move to require developers to obtain Chinese government licensing before their apps can be available in the country's app store is set to close a censorship loophole in China.

Credits: REUTERS

However, this new requirement is also expected to create obstacles for developers, according to analysts and users. The rule not only affects foreign apps that are censored but also apps that target Chinese users without having local operations.

For years, Chinese users have been able to access blocked foreign apps like Instagram and YouTube through the Chinese iOS store by using virtual private networks (VPNs). However, with the increasing difficulty of finding VPNs in China, this access may soon be lost. Apple has started asking app developers targeting mainland users to provide proof of licensing from local internet regulators, in compliance with censorship laws. Experts predict that Apple will soon remove unlicensed apps, including Instagram, Google, and Twitter.

A key change in Apple's policy is the requirement for apps to obtain an Internet Information Provider (ICP) license from Chinese regulators. This means that all apps must use a mainland domain and be hosted by a local entity. This change is already having a significant impact on the app space, particularly for small, independent developers who are likely to face the most difficulties.

Some foreign clients have sought advice from digital product and user experience agency Digital Creative Asia on how to host their apps in China or create a separate Chinese-focused version. However, creating a Chinese-compliant version with strict content filters has not always been successful, as seen with LinkedIn's failed attempt.

AppInChina, a publishing firm that offers app hosting services in China, has seen a surge in inquiries to act as a China-based proxy since Apple updated its developer guidelines. Local developers have expressed frustration with the increased costs and hindrance to their business model of quickly launching and updating apps.

In addition to the ICP licensing, apps will also need to comply with various censorship policies and standards, including data transfer laws. China has additional and more restrictive licensing requirements for apps related to games, books, magazines, religion, and news.

Apple's compliance with China's app rules may lead to a decrease in the number of apps available in the country, which could impact the digital economy. Currently, China's Apple App Store has the largest number of app offerings, with about 21% of the top 5,000 downloaded apps published by foreign developers.

While there may still be loopholes for tech-savvy users to access these apps, the tightened policy is expected to present a significant barrier to entry and reduce usage.

  • Apple's new requirement for Chinese government licensing closes a censorship loophole

  • Chinese users may lose access to blocked foreign apps like Instagram and YouTube

  • Apps targeting Chinese users without local operations will also be affected

Source: SCMP

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