China’s authorities have launched a crackdown against non-compliant mobile apps. The crackdown is taking place during November and December 2019, so businesses operating apps in China must take urgent action or else face sanctions. This campaign targets not only businesses operating apps, but also apps distributors and app stores.

The authorities are adopting a three-stage process, whereby infringing apps will be systematically reviewed for compliance with the current China app regulations, as follows:

  1. Self-assessment and self-remediation by those operating apps: from 4 to 10 November 2019.
  2. Supervised examinations by the authorities (MIIT) and third party assessors against frequently downloaded apps: from 11 to 30 November 2019. Those apps found to be materially non-compliant with the apps regulations may be required to conduct a review of the app alongside state-designated experts and regulators, and to take remedial steps.
  3. Enforcement steps: MIIT will issue publish reports and issue orders against those apps still not in compliance with the relevant regulations: from 1 to 20 December 2019. Sanctions may include corrective orders, public announcements, suspension of the app’s operations, delisting of the app from app downloading platforms and, significantly, the listing of the relevant network operators on a blacklist / “not trustworthy” list.

Businesses publishing their apps on China app stores directly, or via distributors, may also face scrutiny by the respective app stores and/or obligations flown down by their distributors in order to achieve compliance.

The campaign will have four main areas of focus:

  • Collection of personal data in an infringing way (e.g. apps collecting too much personal data, or not having given a transparent privacy notices before collection of the data)
  • Indiscriminate use and disclosure of personal data (e.g. using personal data such as device identification information or search habits without permitting app users to opt-out of such data collection; sharing such personal data with third parties without obtaining notified consent)
  • Making consent to unreasonable purposes a condition of the use of the app (e.g. requiring permissions and consents far wider than necessary to provide the app services; forcing the app user to exit the app if the user refuses to provide personal data that has nothing to do with the services being provided in the app)
  • Unreasonable restriction of user’s rights (e.g. making it difficult for users to exercise their right to cancel / de-register their accounts)

The launch of this crackdown follows the recent compliance requirements and enforcement focus on apps in China (see our recent update: Navigating China episode 5). It also aligns with other recent steps taken by the PRC authorities to monitor online activity (including apps) in China, including the announcement last week of a new PRC National Online activity monitoring platform.