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Tencent app updates halted by regulator for data protection inspections

Chinese regulators have ordered Tencent Holdings to suspend the distribution of new apps and app updates. A number of Tencent-owned apps were accused of user right infringement, state-run broadcaster CCTV reported on Wednesday.

Regulators will review Tencent’s existing apps and update packages before they are shipped to app stores. The screening could take up to seven days, CCTV reported, citing the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, or MIIT. The apps’ current versions can still be downloaded and used.

“The crackdown is the latest effort of MIIT’s ongoing crackdown on internet companies’ data practices,” said Xia Hailong, a lawyer who specializes in tech policy at Shanghai Shenlun, to KrASIA. “Tencent and its affiliated apps are being targeted because they have been noticed by the authorities after breaking data protection rules multiple times this year.”

Chinese authorities have prioritized cases of privacy infringement and misuse of personal data. Companies that collect excessive data or abuse their stores of user data face regulatory scrutiny and harsh penalties under the Personal Information Protection Law (PIPL), which took effect on November 1.

Xia noted that even current reviews do not spare tech companies from inspections in the immediate future, because each audit is only valid for one version of an app or platform.

This year, MIIT has regularly issued warnings to internet companies and posted lists of apps whose data harvesting practices were deemed illegal. Before the latest clampdown, nine of Tencent’s products each received four warnings, according to CCTV’s report.

On November 3, MIIT ordered the operators of 38 apps to rectify their data collection procedures, including Tencent. This was the first batch of companies to be warned after the PIPL went into effect.

“The reviews of internet companies’ compliance under new privacy laws could become a routine check by regulators,” said Xia. “Tech giants should pay more attention to the matter, especially those that possess large amounts of user data.”

Tencent responded in a statement on Wednesday that it is upgrading the company’s protection features for user data and cooperating with regulatory authorities with compliance checks.

Mengyuan Ge
Mengyuan Ge
Mengyuan Ge is a passionate tech reporter of 36Kr Global in Beijing. She covers market trends, start-ups as well as big-techs in China.

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