China's censors to crack down on mobile apps

A Chinese media regulator threatened on Monday to shut down mobile apps that don't comply with government guidelines.

The State Internet Information Office claimed that some mobile apps were vehicles for "pornography and obscene information, and harm the physical and mental health of youngsters". However, the crackdown will also affect apps that provide access to foreign news outlets blocked by Chinese Internet censors.

China has a long record of blocking news sites and articles deemed to be critical of the party in Beijing, such as CNN and The New York Times, as well as sites like Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and WordPress. Despite this strict regime, known as 'The Great Firewall', many users have found mobile apps to be a loophole in the censorship code. Now, that loophole looks to be closing.

Under fire are apps like Zaker, China's most popular news aggregator with 17.5 million users, and Chouti, whose slogan is "Publish what shouldn't be published". While the government has previously urged service providers to "self-regulate" to avoid the spreading of "rumours", this latest more hard-line approach is a sign of diminishing patience in Beijing.

From today, the government will shut down and ban any apps that fail "to maintain order in news dissemination on the mobile Internet".

This move follows a recent crackdown on what the government calls "online rumours". A recent judicial interpretation issued by China's top court and prosecutor made it possible to charge people with defamation if information posted by them and deemed to be false is visited by 5,000 internet users or reposted more than 500 times. The result of a standard conviction for defamation is three years in prison.

"No country would consider the slander of other people as 'freedom of speech'," said Sun Jungong, a spokesperson for the court. He also cited the increasing problem of false terror alerts being spread via social media.

Other victims of the rumour clampdown were Sina.com, which was put through disciplinary procedures, and Twitter-analogue Sina Weibo, which was closed for several days in 2012 so that all "rumours" could be deleted.

In the last two months, over 1,000 people have been arrested in China for crimes related to internet use.

Image: Flickr (\!/_PeacePlusOne)