China launches new crackdowns on “illegal” apps and VPN services

Credit: karen roach /

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – 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.

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

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. ZTE declined to immediately comment.

The administration said the apps violated cyber laws in China and said it would step up supervision.

The app purge follows closely on the heels of a new initiative by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) to crack down on unauthorized connections, including VPN services, that allow users to bypass restrictions known as the Great Firewall.

The MIIT Technology said in a notice on its website on Sunday that it is launching a nationwide clean-up campaign aimed at ISPs, internet data center and content delivery network companies.

It ordered checks for companies operating without government licenses or beyond the scope of licenses.

The ministry said it was forbidden to create or rent communication channels, including VPNs, without governmental approval, to run cross-border operations.

VPNs can be used to gain access to blocked websites.

China has the world’s largest population of internet users – now at 731 million people – and is home to some of the biggest internet firms such as Tencent, Baidu and Alibaba Group.

The government also aggressively censors the internet, blocking many sites it thinks could challenge the rule of the Communist Party or threaten stability, including sites such as Facebook and Google’s main search engine and Gmail service.

The MIIT asked telecoms infrastructure providers to verify their clients’ use of network resources.

(Reporting by Engen Tham and Sijia Jiang; Editing by Michael Perry and Robert Birsel)

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