Apple (AAPL.O) has recently implemented a new requirement for app developers looking to release their apps on the China App Store.
In a move to comply with tightening state regulations in China, Apple now demands that new apps provide proof of a Chinese government license, known as an “internet content provider (ICP) filing,” before being published on its platform.
This policy aligns Apple with local competitors who have been following these regulations since at least 2017, such as Tencent (0700.HK) and Huawei (HWT.UL).
Obtaining an ICP filing license necessitates having a Chinese company or partnering with a local publisher, which has posed a significant challenge for many foreign app developers.
Apple’s previously more lenient ICP policy allowed it to offer a broader selection of mobile apps than its local rivals, enhancing its popularity in China, which ranks as its third-largest market after the Americas and Europe.
This new requirement from Apple comes in the wake of China’s increased scrutiny of mobile apps, with a recent rule mandating that all app stores and developers submit an “app filing” containing business details to regulators.
While the first batch of mobile app stores complying with this rule was announced by Chinese regulators, Apple’s App Store was notably absent from the list.
The compliance status of Apple could impact the accessibility of hundreds of thousands of apps on its China App Store, including popular foreign apps like X (formerly known as Twitter) and Telegram, which gained prominence during protests against COVID-19 lockdowns last year.
Apple has been encountering other challenges in China, as Beijing has heightened its focus on security.
This includes some government agencies banning the use of iPhones by employees.
Rich Bishop, CEO of app publishing firm AppInChina, believes that the demand for ICP filings brings Apple closer to full compliance in China.
The expanded rule in August also stipulates that the backend of an app must be hosted in China, making it a prerequisite for apps to be featured on local Android app stores.
Many developers have expressed concerns about Apple’s decision, fearing that it may further tighten rules to meet China’s regulations.
Independent developer Jinyu Meng mentioned on X, “If my apps can’t be launched in China without app filing, I will take down my apps there.”
Some iPhone users in China have considered using Apple accounts from other countries to access their favorite apps.
The new rule will impose penalties on apps without proper filings after a grace period ending in March next year, while newly developed apps must comply starting in September.