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Apple executes New Year’s Eve apps purge in China

The majority of them were games that were unlicensed.

Human rights activists, however, have said that the organization needs to be more straightforward about why certain other apps were pulled before the deadline of 31 December. 

Previously, the US tech company has confirmed that it is subject to local laws, but also challenges taking down orders. Apple removed about 46,000 apps from its store on New Year’s Eve, according to analysis by research firm Qimai, of which 85% were games. It said that they featured, among more obscure games, Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Identity and the basketball game NBA 2K20. 

Four years ago, China adopted a law stating that games must have earned an official license number in order to be sold in the count. International corporations were prohibited from directly selling games to customers, and had to work with local firms to do so. Even then, they can be hard to come by.

The website of China’s National Press and Media Administration indicates that this year it only issued 97 video game import licenses, some of which were for game consoles instead of apps. Originally, Apple had suggested that a deadline of 31 July would be implemented, but it later extended to 31 December 2020.

The consultancy of App In China said that publishers had previously exploited a loophole whereby the iPhone-maker demanded the license number of a developer but did not check it, meaning that any number could be submitted to its network. 

Before Christmas, Sensor Tower said Apple had already pulled at least 94,000 apps from its Chinese store this year. Google is not affected as Android devices sold within the country do not use its Play Store, and local marketplaces have already taken their own steps to be compliant.

In addition to games, Chinese censors have also lobbied against applications used for fraud, pornography, prostitution, gambling and abuse, in addition to those that contain information that is politically sensitive or other material that is considered illegal. 

A crackdown earlier this month, among hundreds of others, culminated in a ban on the American travel app TripAdvisor. Apple regularly publishes a list of the number of apps it has been requested to uninstall in the country on a daily basis, but does not name the items involved.

One group based in Washington has said the organization needs to be more transparent about its actions.  Last week, Michelle Kuppersmith of the Campaign for Transparency said, “The number of apps that Apple says it removes from China each year doesn’t line up with the much longer list of apps that are missing in China but commonly found in other markets”. This inconsistency illustrates that the China App Store is taking back a significant number of politically sensitive items. 

“If Apple is choosing to soften its opposition to censorship in order to compete in the Chinese market, it should be transparent about that decision.”

It was quoted as saying by the Wall Street Journal, “Apple studies these requests carefully whenever we receive them, and we contest and disagree with them often. Although the final decisions are often contradictory to our desires, we agree that our consumers are better served when we stay in the country to provide them with access to products that encourage self-expression with world-class privacy protection”.

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