China is requiring that all app stores operating in the country register with its Cyberspace Administration in an effort to battle malware but also to tighten control over uncensored content.
The rules took effect Monday, in a country where domestic third-party app stores -- not from Apple or Google -- are serving billions of downloads to Android smartphones. Chinese internet companies such as Baidu, Tencent and a host of smaller, shadier local app stores have been feeding the demand, at a time when Google has largely pulled out of the market.
The government, however, has problems with the proliferation of app stores and the lack of industry oversight, the Cyberspace Administration of China said in a statement on Friday. Some app stores have been offering products that violate users’ rights, contain security vulnerabilities or spread "illegal information," it said.
The new rules intend to force the stores to better audit their products. Cyberspace Administration officials will keep records on the app stores and investigate those that fail to register or which are found falsifying information.
The new rules are hardly a surprise. China has been heavily censoring the internet for years. Foreign websites such as Facebook and Twitter have been blocked from the country, and local internet services are often required to delete comments or shut down user accounts found posting antigovernment content.
However, in some cases, apps have provided one way for users to circumvent the strict controls. That happened with The New York Times, whose main website was blocked in the country in 2012.
Despite the censorship, the company’s news app was offered on Apple's app store until China ordered its takedown earlier this month.
Third-party app stores in China have also been known to spread malware. Last year, a mobile Trojan likely sourced from the country managed to infect millions of devices across China, India and Indonesia by imitating Android apps.
The country has over 650 million mobile internet users, according to the China Internet Network Information Center. The huge user base has made its app stores some of the biggest in the world.