Four of China’s most popular news apps have disappeared from Chinese app stores as of 3pm today. The enforced takedown by authorities was reported by Sohu News before the deadline (the news on Sohu has since been deleted), and our checks of various domestic app stores show the apps have now been removed.
Jinri Toutiao 今日头条 will be suspended for three weeks, Phoenix News 凤凰新闻 for two weeks, NetEase News 网易新闻 for one week and Tiantian News 天天快报 for three days according to Sohu, which claims to have had the move verified by the Ali, Huawei, Xiaomi, 360 Mobile and OPPO app stores before the deadline. Tencent told them it didn’t have any comment.
The reason behind the takedown, as ascertained by Sohu, is “In order to regulate the dissemination [of news] in a legal manner, all online application stores must suspend the downloading of the four mobile applications”.
The takedown follows an announcement by the State Administration of Radio and Television on April 4 (in Chinese) that picked out Toutiao and Kuaishou as continuing to broadcast without having the relevant permits for online broadcasting, and for broadcasting programming opposed to social morality. The announcement also called on the two to go through their existing content and remove anything deemed unfit or pornographic and to reduce their overall output back inline with their management capabilities. Last year Toutiao explained how it was using AI to automate content-checking with humans watching a very small proportion. Its subsequent efforts to improve its content checking, including hiring Communist Party members, have not kept it safe from this round of suspensions.
Toutiao, the app to be removed for the longest period, had not responded to our request for comment at the time of publication. Its Toutiao Express app does not seem to have been affected by the move. Apple’s China App Store is still carrying the apps involved.