By Connie Chen and Claire Li
On 4 August 2023, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) set a timeline to enforce the filing of mobile applications (APPs), in the published Notice on Carrying out the Filing of Mobile Internet Applications (Notice).
Under the Internet Information Service Management Measures implemented in 2011, engaging in internet information services is subject to ICP licensing. But although APPs clearly fall within the scope of internet information services, the Chinese authorities have so far focused their ICP enforcement activities on websites only.
The PRC Law of Combating Telecom and Online Fraud, implemented in December 2022, provided further clarity. Article 23 expressly provides that APPs must be filed with the telecommunications authority. The current Notice practically implements the APP filing obligations and provides a detailed process and timeline.
APPs engaging in internet information services within the Mainland Chinese territory must comply with the filing obligations. As part of the filing, APP holders must report relevant information about the APP including the entity that holds the APP, the responsible person of the entity, the responsible person of the APP and their contact details, and a description of the APP in terms of category and service.
Filings should be completed with the Provincial Communications Administration:
- APPs that are pre-installed on a smart phone or downloaded by users, should conduct filing through their network access service providers. For example, an APP hosted on Tencent Cloud’s cloud service should conduct filing through the Tencent Cloud portal.
- APPs based on API that users can use without installation, such as mini programs, quick apps, etc. should conduct filing through their distribution platform. For example, mini programs in WeChat should conduct filing through the WeChat portal.
A foreign company that operates an App in China can register its Chinese subsidiary or representative office as the APP holder. Alternatively, it can enter into a cooperation agreement with a local partner.
APPSs should complete filing procedures before they start their business; except that APPs that commenced operation before 4 August 2023, have till 1 April 2024 to complete the filing.
Legal Consequences of not filing on time
- Network access service providers, APP distribution platforms, and smart phone manufacturers are not permitted to provide network access to, distribute and preset the APP that has not fulfilled the filing obligations.
- Holders of APPs operating without filing shall be ordered to make corrections within a time limit. Failure to do so will lead to removal of the APP.
- APPs must show their filing number on the APP itself. Failure to do so risks a fine of CNY 5,000 to CNY 50,000.
- Certain APP stores and mini program platforms have already announced that if filing is not completed within the specified time, then the APP or mini program will be removed from the store or platform.
With the Notice, regulators have closed the gap in filing requirements for internet information service providers by requiring APP holders to file with the telecommunications authorities. While this likely does not limit the operations of most APPs, it does add another layer of compliance to APP holders who already need to provide software copyright certificates and follow China’s (export) data regulations to be listed on app stores in China.
R&P's regulatory team frequently assists international companies with regulatory filings and compliance for SaaS and related businesses. They also work with partners to implement and localize distribution of apps and software in China. Feel free to contact Ms. Connie Chen ([email protected]) or your familiar contact at R&P to discuss how they can help you.