Apple is looking for ways to circumvent incoming legislation in China that would prevent the company from listing foreign apps on the iPhone App Store in the region unless they’ve been given government approval. According to a report by The Wall Street Journal on Friday, Apple has met with Chinese officials over the last few months to express concerns about how the new rules will be implemented and how the changes could affect its Chinese customers.
In August earlier this year, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) announced that all mobile app providers in the country would be required to file business details with the government. The change would effectively close a prominent loophole in China’s Great Firewall that allowed developers to publish their apps through Apple’s App Store without disclosing their business details to the Chinese government. This would likely also require them to comply with the country’s strict data transfer and censorship requirements.
Apple’s App Store allows Chinese iPhone users to install foreign apps like Instagram and Facebook that are banned in the region
iPhone users in China can currently use the App Store to download popular Western apps that are blocked in the country — like Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, and X (formerly Twitter) — and access them by logging in to the platforms through a virtual private network, or VPN. Unauthorized VPN usage is also banned in China, though that hasn’t stopped folks from using the apps.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Chinese officials told Apple that it must strictly implement rules that ban unregistered foreign apps from the App Store. Android-based app stores operated by Tencent, Huawei, Xiaomi, and more have already started to demand that apps listed on their platforms comply with the new rules, but Apple was noticeably missing from a recent list of 26 app stores that have completed filing business details.
App providers that refuse to submit filings could face legal consequences after the grace period for adopting the rules ends in March 2024. Apple could also face similar punishment for hosting unregistered apps on its Chinese App Store, effectively forcing the company to remove noncompliant apps from the platform.
It’s little wonder that Apple is trying to fight the decision given the Chinese market currently accounts for around a fifth of the company’s sales. Apple has faced similar operational restrictions in the region over the last few years, including time limitations on AirDrop following its use in protests and removing thousands of games from the Chinese App Store to comply with licensing requirements for in-app purchases.