China’s cyber watchdog shuts down 3,500 apps over ‘pornographic’ content

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Weibo’s Yizhibo live streaming service. (Image credit: Yizhibo)

China’s cyber watchdog has shut down nearly 3,500 mobile applications for distributing pornographic material and stealing private information, a move it says is aimed at protecting the country’s youth and increasing its control over China’s internet.

According to an announcement by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), it has removed apps including “Online Dating for Adults” (成人约聊), “Lonely in the Night” (夜色的寂寞), and “Sands Macao” (澳门金沙). App operators violated domestic laws by spreading vulgar content, disseminating information about gambling, stealing private information, or providing other illegal gaming services, the regulator said.

An official said the Chinese government has a “zero tolerance” policy towards illegal apps. The CAC aims to strengthen its law enforcement powers in collaboration with other departments. It said an inclusive management process would be created, where internet service providers, content distribution platforms, and social media enterprises are strictly supervised.

Chinese authorities have taken increasingly strict measures to control content they deem to be harmful. In a news briefing held in May, police from the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou announced that three live streaming apps had been shut down. Police apprehended 90 suspects, including app creators and operational staff.

College students were also caught up in the broad investigation. Authorities accused livesteamers they thought to be provocative of “making easy money” on the internet. The suspects allegedly made an average income of RMB 10,000 (around $1,500) a month. Police from 20 cities and towns were involved in the investigation.

Since August 2016, China’s cyber watchdog has issued a series for regulations aimed at online service providers, including app creators, livestreamers, and chat room administrators. However, recently, app stores, social networking services, and cloud computing operators have also seen increased scrutiny, being held accountable for content generated on their platforms.

Last month, CAC censured more than 10 social networking and online media sites, calling for a “clean” and “righteous” cyberspace. Tencent’s WeChat, Sina-backed Weibo, Baidu, and ByteDance’s Jinri Toutiao were all put on the government watchlist.

“Internet service platforms must take part of the blame for online disorder,” a government official said.