China takes down 5,500 illegal apps in cyberspace clean-up

SHANGHAI • China's internet supervisors have taken down more than 5,500 illegal apps for disseminating pornographic and violent content, among other things, the official Xinhua news agency said yesterday.

The move is the latest step taken by Beijing to clean up its cyberspace. On Monday, it launched a crackdown on virtual private network (VPN) services that allow users to bypass censorship.

More than 1,600 mobile video apps circulating pornographic and violent content were taken offline, said the cyberspace administration in China's southern province of Guangdong on Monday.

Over 1,200 social apps had pornographic content, while others hacked users' private information, infringed upon other rights or charged malicious fees.

The administration said illegal apps had been available on app stores operated by Tencent, China Mobile and other smartphone producers like Huawei, ZTE, Coolpad, Meizu, OPPO and VIVO.

Tencent, China Mobile, Huawei, Coolpad, Meizu, OPPO and VIVO could not be reached for comment, while ZTE declined to immediately comment.

China is home to the world's largest number of Internet users, who totalled 731 million as of last December, said the government-linked China Internet Network Information Center on Sunday.

A 2015 report by US think-tank Freedom House found that China had the most restrictive Internet policies of 65 countries it studied, ranking below Iran and Syria.

China passed a controversial cyber security Bill last November, tightening restrictions on online freedom of speech and imposing new rules on service providers.

But companies and individuals often use VPNs to access the unfettered internet beyond China's "Great Firewall".

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said on Sunday that Telecom and Internet service providers will no longer be allowed to set up or rent special lines such as VPNs without official approval.

Its "clean up" campaign would last until March next year, it said in a statement on its website.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2017, with the headline 'China takes down 5,500 illegal apps in cyberspace clean-up'. Print Edition | Subscribe