Apple last week updated its App Store policy to state that only apps with the required licenses from the Chinese government will be made available on the App Store in mainland China.
“China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) requires that apps possess a valid Internet Content Provider (ICP) Filing Number,” Apple’s policy now reads.
In order to qualify for an ICP Filing Number, “developers need to have a company in China or work with a local publisher, which has been an obstacle for a large number of foreign apps.” The apps must effectively host their back end in China, Reuters reported.
Apple users in China could download and use blocked apps like Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and YouTube from the App Store by using a VPN to bypass the Great Firewall. But under the updated policy, these apps might no longer be available on the App Store.
Local app stores like those operated by Tencent and Huawei have had the ICP requirement since at least 2017, but it was made mandatory for apps by the Chinese government only in August this year.
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Why does this matter: This is not the first time Apple is bowing down to the pressure of the Chinese government in ways that could set a bad precedent in other jurisdictions. For instance, what now stops the Indian government from asking Apple or Google to implement similar rules in India, thus censoring apps available in the country? For all its talk about being pro-human rights, Apple has made many compromises in China that directly contradict its portrayed stance. It is now only a matter of time before the Indian government starts asking Apple to make similar compromises in India that affect privacy as well as the freedom of speech and expression of users.
Other licenses that are required for certain types of apps in China: “In addition to ICP Filing Number, games must secure an approval number and apps with books and magazine content must secure an internet publishing permit from China’s National Press and Publication Administration (NPPA). Apps with religious content must secure an Internet Religious Information Permit from China’s National Religious Affairs Administration (NRAA). Apps with news content must obtain an Internet News Information Permit from the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC). If you offer or plan to offer any of these on the App Store in China mainland, you must provide the required information along with one or more supporting documents,” Apple’s policy states.
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