China App Store in Mass Cull from Apple

USA and China boxing gloves colliding

In China, Apple started an unprecedented cull over the weekend on gambling-related content. The tech firm is thought to have deleted a whopping 25,000 apps, more than 1% of what you can find on the China app store.

Apple has not yet confirmed the reports but has released a statement saying that gambling apps are illegal. With the news coming from inside China, there could be more to say as the story develops.

Baited

The cull started on Saturday, when Apple went on a deleting splurge. By Sunday it had withdrawn 25,000 apps from the store, or 1.4% of China’s total apps. Reports say this was done using keywords in the apps such as “lottery” and “gambling” but there is still little concrete evidence to go on. The total amount of apps before the cull was around 1.8m in the China app store.

The slightly suspicious move comes after the US tech giant was the subject of heavy criticism from state broadcaster CCTV for not doing enough to withdraw gambling-based apps from the store. This hard-line approach is in line with new rules from the Chinese government that have blocked a variety of other messaging platforms available through Apple.

The network said that an uncontrolled store resulted in the proliferation of “bogus lottery apps and gambling apps.”

Apple denied this, saying that they were working with markets around the world to limit unlicensed gambling apps which were often unregulated.

In a small twist, the news was initially carried in a weekend report by state broadcaster CCTV and not by any mainstream news outlet. With these constraints, it’s tricky to get the full picture. What we know is that the broadcaster said that technology giant had carried out a large-scale removal of illegal apps that sold fake lottery tickets and offered gambling services. But Apple wan not prepared to comment on the news.

Not the first time

This follows on the news from last week, when Apple mistakenly deleted apps that had no gambling-related content. During a crackdown by the company on apps that operate in the gambling space in the hope of reducing money laundering opportunities, owners of apps that covered local news, screenshots, and GIFs were shut down instead.

Apple said they were deleting apps to “reduce fraudulent activity… and comply with government requests to address illegal online gambling activity” but it ultimately backfired as apps that were almost a decade old were deleted by mistake.

Damning Apple

Going on to damn the company even further in a report on Sunday, CCTV said that, “Apple itself has set up the rules on how to allow apps onto its store, but it didn’t follow that.”

Apple did release a loose statement to US broadcaster CNBC, which read: “We have already removed many apps and developers for trying to distribute illegal gambling apps on our App Store, and we are vigilant in our efforts to find these and stop them from being on the App Store.”

CCTV wasn’t the only Chinese media outlet to report on this. The Global Times, also state-owned, cited the CCTV report on its own station not long afterward.

Without a full statement from Apple, it’s hard to know exactly why so many apps were pulled, or why now, but there are worries that the decision could lead to further tensions between the US and China.

Further tensions

Recently, Apple has come under fire from Chinese state media, which have accused the iPhone-maker of allowing illegal content on its platform.

To tackle new Chinese regulations, last year Apple removed the communication app Skype, as well as hundreds of virtual private networks (VPNs), which are used to send secure emails, transmit data, and access websites that are blocked in China.

VPNs are used to bypass China’s “Great Firewall,” which heavily restricts internet access to foreign sites. Apple has also been accused of not doing enough to filter banned content on its iMessage service.

Whether or not this will affect trade links between the two countries remains to be seen, but with Apple still a popular brand in China, there’s a reason for Apple to want to comply with China’s multiple requests.