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China: Cyberspace Administration Releases New Rules on Mobile Apps

(July 26, 2016) On June 28, 2016, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) released a set of new rules regulating mobile Internet application programs (apps).   (Yidong Hulianwang Yingyong Chengxu Xinxi Fuwu Guanli Guiding [Administrative Provisions on Information Services of Mobile Internet Application Programs] (Provisions), CAC website (June 28, 2016); English translation available through Westlaw China online subscription database.)

The Provisions take effect on August 1, 2016, the same day another set of new rules, issued by the CAC on June 25, regulating Internet search services, takes effect.  (Laney Zhang, China: Cyberspace Administration Requires Paid Search Results to Be Marked, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (July 20, 2016).)  All “information services provided via apps” and “app store services” provided within the territory of the People’s Republic of China are subject to the Provisions.  (Provisions, art. 2.)

The Provisions set out requirements for mobile Internet app providers  and mobile Internet app stores.  App providers and app stores must not use apps to endanger national security or disrupt the public order, or to produce, reproduce, publish, or disseminate content banned by laws and regulations, according to the Provisions.  (Id. art. 6.)  The Provisions also require app providers and app stores to cooperate with government oversight and inspection.  (Id. art. 10.)  App stores must file with provincial-level cyberspace authorities within 30 days of launching operations. (Id. art. 5.)

Requirements for App Providers

Under the Provisions, app providers are required to monitor online content and report violations to government authorities.  App providers must ensure that new app users register with their real names by verifying users’ mobile phone numbers and/or other identity information. (Id. art. 7(1).)  China requires telephone users, including mobile phone users, to register their real names by presenting prescribed identity documents, such as Resident Identity Cards or household registration booklets; foreigners are required to present their passports.  (Dianhua Yonghu Zhenshi Shenfen Xinxi Dengji Guiding [Provisions on the Registration of Real Identity Information of Telephone Users] (July 16, 2013, effective on Sept. 1, 2013), art. 7, Ministry of Industry and Information Technology website.)  Therefore, when it becomes necessary, government authorities can easily track down the identities of app users through their mobile phone numbers on file.

App providers must monitor banned content and take action against users that publish banned content, by issuing warnings, restricting functions, stopping updates, or terminating accounts.  They must also keep a record of the violations and report the matters to relevant government authorities. (Id. art. 7(3).)  App providers are required to keep records of users’ activities for 60 days. (Id. art. 7(6).)

In the meantime, the Provisions require app providers to enhance protection of personal data. Under the Provisions, when collecting and using user information, app providers must expressly state the purposes, methods, and scope of information to be collected and obtain user consent. (Id. art. 7(2).)  App providers are prohibited from accessing locations, address books, cameras, or audio recordings without issuing express prompts to users and obtaining user consent. (Id. art. 7(4).)

Requirements for App Stores

The Provisions impose management duties on app stores in regard to app providers.  For example, app stores must verify the legitimacy of app providers and ensure app providers protect user information and publish lawful content.  App stores are required to take action against offending app providers by issuing warnings, suspending their publications, or removing the aberrant apps from the stores.  App stores are also required to keep records of the violations and report them to the relevant government authorities. (Id. art. 8.)