Will China’s government soon start inspecting and regulating mobile apps?

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internet censorship

China’s mobile app market has developed with remarkable speed over the past few years. That seemed only natural given the speed with which the mobile market was developing overseas, but it is also true that the app industry in China has been allowed to operate with virtually no government oversight or obstruction. Anyone could develop an app and put it up for sale. But all that could be about to change.

MIIT is the regulatory body in charge of regulating China’s mobile technology, and the Ministry is a big part of the reason why products like Apple’s iPhone don’t get released in China until months after they have been released abroad. Network-accessing devices like phones all have to go through a registration and permitting process with MIIT that can take weeks or months (in addition to other regulatory requirements). Now, MIIT has suggested that it may begin to require a similar registration process for apps. This would mean that any mobile app that hoped to be released in China would first have to be submitted to MIIT for approval.

It’s not clear exactly how this process would work, or by what standards MIIT would be judging apps, but mobile developers in China are already up in arms. Sohu IT talked to numerous developers and found that many are concerned such a policy could slow the development of China’s mobile app sector. Others are concerned MIIT isn’t actually capable of overseeing such a large and fast-moving industry given that it probably doesn’t have enough manpower to inspect every app and every app update that gets released to the Chinese market.

But not everyone is opposed to the idea. IT lawyer Zhao Zhanling told Sohu IT:

Apps really do need to be supervised; pornography, violence, piracy, messing with the [app] rankings and more are all quite common. That said, the supervision does need to be done appropriately to resolve the when-it’s-unregulated-it’s-a-mess-but-regulation-kills-it problem.

If not a death blow, putting every single app, and potentially also app updates, through a typically slow MIIT approval process would certainly be highly damaging to China’s mobile industry. Moreover, it’s possible that the sheer number of apps that needed to be registered could lead to backlogs and even longer wait times at MIIT, which is already pretty slow at approving things.

It isn’t clear exactly what MIIT’s plans are, but MIIT committee secretary Chen Jinqiao told reporters this while being interviewed yesterday:

MIIT is currently establishing an evaluation system that will evaluate and randomly inspect mobile apps and pre-installed software [on phones], and the relevant national laboratories and research institutes are all participating. Next, we will bring third-party platforms under our management, establish a registration [system], and begin implementing oversight. And the platforms themselves have some requests [for us], especially bringing independently-developed apps under supervision and establishing a real-name registration system [for independent developers], etc.

I don’t want to be accused of being a doomsday prophet, so I’ll just say this: if you’re working on an app for China, you might want to speed up the process a little bit, especially if you’re at all concerned it’s an app MIIT might not be too excited about.

This article by C. Custer originally appeared on Tech in Asia and is published with permission.

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