As China gets tough on mobile apps and big tech, should others follow?

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The mobile app market in China is huge and only likely to grow. It has become like an unruly teenager, and the Government is moving to restrict its activities.

It is by no means China’s first move to restrict technology companies’ activities and protect the population from unscrupulous behaviour. And while some might say its methods are a touch draconian, the effect is very much to protect the consumer.

China is also leading the way in making big tech companies stick to the rules and reacting with severity if they don’t. The obvious example is the fate of Jack Ma, who crossed a line last year, days before his Ant Group was due to go public in the biggest ever IPO.

The result was the cancellation of the IPO and the quick, quiet exit of Jack Ma from public life. Already, just months later, Ma has lost his seat at the top table of China’s richest people and has slid into fourth place (although, let’s face it, what would we give to be China’s fourth-richest person).

Of course, it the nature of the regime in China to be tough on technology firms while ensuring ‘that the masses can use apps with confidence.’ Some may say that getting tough on technology companies is the main goal, and consumer protection is a by-product. Still, consumers are protected to a much greater extent than many other more liberal countries. It may feel like a very comfortable straitjacket for consumers, but it works.

In other countries, the same cannot be said. Social media companies, in particular, are getting more sure of themselves by the day, and as they get more sure of themselves, the more arrogant they become.

The recent debacle and brinkmanship in Australia showed that social media companies are prepared to take on and defy national Governments. It was only the fact that Facebook, instead of taking on a small country a long way from home (so no-one would notice), was actually in the global spotlight that it realised the impending PR disaster of stopping service in Australia. So it came back to the table.

The attempted regulation of social media, in different ways, has got to the point where taking some pages from the Chinese book might be the only hope of bringing them to heel.

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