Apple has started enforcing China’s long-running app registration system, with Beijing stepping up its oversight of mobile applications in recent weeks.
The iPhone-maker has started requiring new apps to submit a Chinese government licence — the “internet content provider (ICP) filing” — when they publish new apps on its China App Store.
Apple had maintained a loose ICP policy so far, which allowed it to offer far more mobile apps than local app rivals, many of whom had adopted the policy years earlier.
That strategy allowed Apple to boost its popularity in China, its third-largest market behind the Americas and Europe.
An ICP filing is a longtime registration system, required for websites to operate legally in China. To get an ICP filing licence, 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.
Meanwhile, most local app stores, including those operated by Tencent and Huawei, have adopted it since at least 2017.
Apple began requesting app-makers to follow the requirement last Friday, according to its website for developers.
Several developers have taken to social media to voice concerns over Apple’s decision. Many fear the tech giant may further tighten rules to fully comply with China’s regulations.
In a post on X, Jinyu Meng, an independent developer, said: “If my apps can’t be launched in China without app filing, I will take down my apps [there].”
Some iPhone users in China posted on X saying that they may need to start using Apple accounts from other countries to access their favourite apps.
New rules coming in effect
Apple’s decision to enforce the ICP-filing requirement comes after China further tightened its oversight over mobile apps in August.
Beijing released a new rule requiring all app stores and app developers to submit an “app filing” containing business details with the regulators.
Chinese regulators last week released names of the first batch of mobile app stores that have completed app filings, but Apple’s App Store was not among those on the list.
Apple is also facing other troubles in China as Beijing focuses more on security, such as some government agencies reportedly banning employees from using iPhones. Beijing has denied enforcing such a ban.
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Rich Bishop, CEO of app publishing firm AppInChina, said demanding ICP filings from developers brings Apple one step closer to being fully compliant in China.
The expanded rule issued in August effectively requires the backend of an app to be hosted in China, which last month became a condition for apps to be featured on local Android app stores.
Under the new rule, apps without proper filings will be punished after the grace period that will end in March next year, while newly developed apps need to comply with the rule from September.
Apple’s compliance status could affect the accessibility of hundreds of thousands of apps on its App Store in China, including popular foreign apps like X (formerly known as Twitter) and Telegram, both of which became popular during protests against Covid-19 lockdowns last year.
- Reuters, with additional editing by Vishakha Saxena