Trouble brewing: China’s Qihoo faces special investigation by Apple

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qihoo 360

At the start of last week, all the 20+ iOS apps made by Chinese software company and search engine Qihoo vanished from Apple’s App Store — and they still haven’t been restored. According to multiple sources in one Chinese media report, Qihoo is in big trouble with Apple for systematic abuses of its iOS ecosystem. This is not just about manipulating App Store rankings — which Qihoo was allegedly caught doing last year — but also, it is claimed, for encouraging the jailbreaking of iPhones by the way that Qihoo often makes its apps available as single file downloads that can be loaded by users with jailbroken Apple devices.

Qihoo has not commented publicly on the whole matter, and we’ve reached out to its Beijing HQ about these new allegations.

In addition, the QQ Tech source suggests that the removal of Qihoo’s iOS apps was done manually by Apple — not caused by a mere automatically triggered takedown — and therefore amounts to a special investigation into the apps by the Cupertino company. Whereas an automatic takedown can be resolved within a few days, as happened to Qihoo last February, a manual removal by Apple can take longer to sort out, and there’s apparently no timescale for this process. The article claims that Qihoo’s CFO has even dashed to the US to help speed up the restoration of the apps to the App Store.

Banned apps

In the meantime, Qihoo’s iOS apps are, perhaps ironically, only available to users of jailbroken iPhones and iPads. Its Android apps are unaffected. The Qihoo apps missing from the App Store range from its 360 Mobile Assistant to its 360 Browser. This ban will be good news for rival Chinese browser makers, such as market-leading UC Browser or Tencent’s QQ Browser.

One possible alternative is that Apple is clamping down on apps that it deems are of little value, and that would affect Qihoo creations such as the afore-mentioned 360 Mobile Assistant, plus its 360 Battery Guard and lots of other ‘utility’ apps of that nature.

Aside from the suggestion that Qihoo’s apps damaged Apple’s ecosystem, it is thought that Qihoo’s iOS software also made use of banned APIs, and were engaged in repeated attempts to rig App Store rankings. Qihoo’s desktop applications are also under the spotlight in China where the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) has handed Qihoo an official warning for unfair competition involving collusion and dirty tricks in its Windows-based anti-virus and web browser offerings.

If Qihoo’s self-publishing of its iOS apps is part of the reason for being in trouble, then it would be a worrying precedent for many Chinese web companies and startups. Quite a number of them give users the requisite ‘.ipa’ file as a download so that jailbroken users can load the app outside of Apple’s App Store. It’s a common phenomenon in China with Android apps, but Google’s less draconian ecosystem does allow third-party app stores.

As we saw when Qihoo launched a search engine in China last summer, its large suite of apps is crucial to its massive traffic. So, while Android is used more widely in China, Qihoo will be hurting from being largely invisible to China’s iPhone and iPad users while this ban persists.

This article by Steven Millward originally appeared on Tech in Asia, a Burn Media publishing partner.

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