Apple has recently implemented a requirement for new apps to provide evidence of a Chinese government license before they can be released on the China App Store. The move aligns Apple with local competitors who had already adopted this policy years ago in response to increasingly stringent state regulations.
Apple officially announced this requirement last Friday, mandating that app developers submit an “internet content provider (ICP) filing” when publishing new apps on the App Store, as stated on its developer website.
The ICP filing is a well-established registration system, necessary for websites to operate legally in China. Most local app stores, including those operated by Tencent and Huawei, have implemented this requirement since at least 2017. While Chinese regulators published the names of 26 mobile app stores that completed their app filings last week, Apple’s App Store was notably absent from the list.
To obtain an ICP filing license, developers must have a presence in China or collaborate with a local publisher. This has posed a challenge for numerous foreign app developers.
Apple’s relatively lenient ICP policy had enabled the company to offer a more extensive selection of mobile apps compared to local competitors, contributing to its popularity in China.
Apple’s decision to adopt this requirement comes after China tightened its supervision of mobile apps in August by introducing a new rule that necessitates all app stores and developers to submit an “app filing” containing business details to regulators.
Apple’s compliance status could impact the availability of hundreds of thousands of apps on its App Store in China, including well-known foreign apps like X (formerly Twitter) and Telegram, which gained popularity during protests against COVID-19 lockdowns last year.
Rich Bishop, CEO of app publishing firm AppInChina, remarked that requiring ICP filings from developers brings Apple one step closer to full compliance with Chinese regulations.
The expanded rule introduced in August essentially mandates that the backend of an app must be hosted in China, a requirement for apps to be featured on local Android app stores since last month.
Some Chinese iPhone users have also voiced their concerns on X, indicating that they might need to resort to using Apple accounts from other countries to access their favorite apps.
Under the new rule, apps lacking proper filings will face penalties after a grace period that extends until March next year, while newly developed apps must adhere to the rule starting in September.
Last week, the WSJ reported that Apple was in discussions with Chinese officials to discuss concerns about new regulations that could limit the availability of foreign apps on its app store in the country, which is its third-largest market after the Americas and Europe.