China will require all mobile app providers in the country to file business details with the government, its information ministry said, marking Beijing's latest effort to keep the industry on a tight leash.
The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) said late on Tuesday that apps without proper filings will be punished after the grace period that will end in March next year, a move that experts say would potentially restrict the number of apps and hit small developers hard.
You Yunting, a lawyer with Shanghai-based DeBund Law Offices, said the order is effectively requiring approvals from the ministry. The new rule is primarily aimed at combating online fraud but it will impact all apps in China, he said.
Rich Bishop, co-founder of app publishing firm AppInChina, said the new rule is also likely to affect foreign-based developers which have been able to publish their apps easily through Apple's App Store without showing any documentation to the Chinese government.
Bishop said that in order to comply with the new rules, app developers now must either have a company in China or work with a local publisher.
Apple did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
The iPhone maker pulled over a hundred artificial intelligence (AI) apps from its App Store last week to comply with regulations after China introduced a new licensing regime for generative AI apps for the country.
The ministry's notice also said entities "engaged in internet information services through apps in such fields as news, publishing, education, film and television and religion should also submit relevant documents."
The requirement could affect the availability of popular social media apps such as X, Facebook and Instagram. Use of such apps are not allowed in China, but they can be still downloaded from app stores, enabling Chinese to use them when traveling overseas.
China already requires mobile games to obtain licenses before they launch in the country, and it had purged tens of thousands of unlicensed games from various app stores in 2020.
Tencent's WeChat, China's most popular online social platform, said on Wednesday that mini apps, apps that can be opened within WeChat, must also follow the new rules.
The company said that new apps must complete the filing before launch starting from September, while exiting mini apps have until the end of March.