China’s IT regulator urged tech companies to stop forcing users visiting web versions of their services to download apps in a Thursday meeting.

Why it matters: The suggestion could cut profits from major internet companies as they might see app users and data decrease. Chinese internet companies often use their web applications to attract new users to mobile apps, from which they can collect users’ information and promote products more easily, especially after browsers start to set a stricter countermeasure to protect users’ privacy.

  • Chinese tech companies such as Baidu, Weibo, Zhihu, and Sohu, often require users who visit the mobile web version of the services to download their apps, or else, limiting their access to the mobile web services or trick them into clicking an adjacent button to download the apps.
  • Compared to Chinese social media companies, global service providers like Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit have focused on building more app-like features into their websites, making the web experience more pleasant.

Details:  The regulators made the urge following a public complaint. On Feb. 11, a user complained that many tech companies forced people to visit a mobile web version of their services to download apps, according to a complaint posted on state media People’s Daily’s leadership message board. The board allows users to post suggestions for leaders of relevant ministries in China. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), China’s administration for the IT industry, responded to the complaint, promising they would conduct in-depth research on forced app installation.

  • MIIT asked service providers to stop forcing users to download apps without their approval and add a prominent option to cancel downloads. 
  • MIIT also asked service providers to provide better mobile web users’ experience, avoiding using techniques such as folding web pages, pop-up windows encouraging app downloads, and frequent alerts. 
  • At the time of the publication, Zhihu and Sohu have gotten rid of their app install walls, while Baidu Tieba still requires users to download apps to read full threads.

Ward Zhou is a tech reporter based in Shanghai. He covers stories about industry of digital content, hardware, and anything geek. Reach him via ward.zhou[a] or Twitter @zhounanyu.