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China wants mobile app approval, tracking powers

Smartphone makers may need to have apps pre-approved before release

Barbed wire surrounding communications tower

China's latest plans to regulate its domestic mobile apps industry could force smartphone manufacturers to conduct costly and time-consuming extra testing, as well as help the government track users.

The new regulations have been filed with the World Trade Organisation to notify it on potential barriers to trade and match a draft law unveiled in June by the Chinese authorities, according to Wall Street Journal.

China’s unregulated app market is a hotbed of malicious activity, with premium rate diallers and data stealing malware prevalent in the nation's many unofficial app stores.

The proposed laws can therefore be interpreted as an attempt to clean up the industry, making their call for smartphone makers and platform providers to ensure that pre-installed apps and those on official app stores comply with Chinese law before going on sale.

Whether the proposal is workable is another question, as the current wording means apps would likely require smartphone makers to get the green light from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) before any software updates can be rolled out.

There’s also a requirement to build new phones according to China Communications Standards Association standards, which could mean phone makers in the future being forced to hand over data which could identify users and track their app use, the report said.

To be fair, back in April, MIIT deputy director Xiong Sihao was even forced to publicly criticise state-run operators China Telecom and China Mobile for “many problems” in their respective app stores.

However, as with all government-mandated regulations in the People’s Republic, alongside the promise of more secure systems there is also the threat that the authorities could use such power to censor any content deemed to be offensive or challenging its authority. ®

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