All mainland app providers ordered to keep user logs for months to curb spread of ‘illegal information’

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 June, 2016, 11:37pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 June, 2016, 9:31am

Internet authorities are tightening their grip on the rapidly growing app market, with new rules demanding that all app providers on the mainland adopt real-name registration for users and keep their user activity logs for 60 days.

The new rules from the Cyberspace Administration of China also aim to rein in excessive access of users’ personal data by app ­providers.

The new regulation applies to the provision of “information services through mobile internet apps as well as app store services on the Chinese mainland”. It is unclear if the new regulation would affect overseas users of Chinese apps.

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The administration said the regulation, which will take effect from August 1, was introduced to curb the dissemination of “illegal information” and violations of users’ rights through mobile apps.

“Lawbreakers exploit a handful of apps to disseminate violent, terrorist, obscene and pornographic information and rumours against the law,” an unnamed CAC official said in a statement on the agency’s website.

The administration estimated there were more than four million apps available through online stores on the mainland. According to research firm Analysys International, WeChat, QQ, Alipay, Taobao and Tencent Video were among the most popular last month in terms of number of ­active users. Alibaba, which operates Alipay and Taobao, owns the South China Morning Post.

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Under the new regulation, users will still be allowed to adopt a public alias but not before registering their real identities with the app providers. App providers must verify those identities by mobile phone numbers or other means.

Providers should issue warnings, restrict access, suspend updates or shut down accounts of users who publish “illegal information” and content.

App store operators, meanwhile, will be required to vet the apps’ security and compliance with the law.

App providers will also need the explicit consent of users to gain access to their geographic ­location and contact list, record video and audio through their mobile devices, or activate or bundle unnecessary functions with their services.

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Beauty app founder Qi Shudan said the regulation would likely have a bigger impact on apps that had many commenters. “It will have little effect on apps of our kind that are only for business and commerce,” Qi said.

A Guangzhou-based app operator, who refused to be named, said the rule on activity logs was a warning to “all internet users not to make improper comments on social or political issues because every word you type will be ­recorded and handed in to the authorities”.

“Many users like to comment on social and political news on live-streaming and news apps. Now they will need to think twice before making any comment that authorities could claim spurred public scares or rumours,” he said.

“Such rules only put further limits on freedom of speech.”

The authorities have ramped up online real-name registration since last year, implementing it for instant messaging services, Twitter-like microblogs, online forums and other websites.

On Monday, a controversial cybersecurity bill was also presented to the national legislature for a second reading.