On 13 January 2017, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) announced the commencement on 16 January 2017 of the Internet app store registration program in China. The registration requirement was imposed by the mobile apps regulation that became effective in August last year. Specifically, Article 5 of the Administrative Provisions on Information Services of Mobile Internet Application Programs (Mobile Provisions) requires Internet app stores in China to register with the local offices of the Cyberspace Administration within 30 days of the launch of business operations. “Internet apps stores” cover platforms on which various applications are provided for users to browse, search and download (such as iTunes, Google Play, Baidu Shouji, Tencent Myapp, and SnapPea), or the development tools and products released on the Internet (such as Apple Developer, Google Developers, and Xiaomi Developer).
Internet app stores need to: (i) apply for registration immediately upon the commencement of business operations; (ii) apply when any registration information needs to be updated; and (iii) communicate with the Cyberspace Administration when they terminate their business operations. Registrations shall be made locally where the store’s ICP business license was obtained. Violations of the registration requirements are punishable though the actual offences/fines have yet to be stipulated.
Other than registration, an Internet app store is required to fulfil a long list of administrative responsibilities over its app providers pursuant to the Mobile Provisions: (i) verify the authenticity, security, legality of app providers and establish a credit management system; (ii) require app providers to protect users’ information and provide a privacy notice to users; (iii) require app providers to improve their security review mechanism and appoint security personnel; (iv) require app providers to only release legitimate application programs, and respect the intellectual property rights of other app providers; (v) upon becoming aware of a violation, take measures such as issuing a warning, suspending the release or taking down the app as the case may be, and report the same to the relevant authorities; (vi) sign a service agreement with app providers and require them to comply with the laws, regulations and rules of the platform; and (vii) assist relevant authorities with any investigations, and assume public oversight by establishing channels and procedures for lodging complaints.
These requirements appear to be one of many efforts China has recently undertaken to crack down on malicious Internet apps by tightening control over app stores. “Malicious” apps refers to apps distributing content deemed to endanger national security, disrupt social order, or apps otherwise prohibited by Chinese laws, infringing users’ legitimate rights, and/or containing serious security flaws. Some of the requirements in the Mobile Provisions are to be welcomed, such as IPR infringement and security issues while others which may be seen to equal a censorship requirement over app content may meet with less enthusiasm especially from foreign businesses operating in China.