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BUSINESS & TECH

New Rules to Make Smartphone Apps Easier to Understand, Delete

By Yang Ge

(Beijing) — Preinstalled apps on smartphones sold in China must clearly state their creators and functions and also must be easy to uninstall, according to new draft rules released by China's telecom regulator, as it aims to better protect consumer privacy and reduce nuisance software.

China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) released the rules late on Friday amid a growing chorus of complaints about unwanted apps that come installed on many smartphones, sometimes gathering personal data without the user's knowledge or authorization.

The new rules, which will take effect July 1, cover a wide range of issues relating to preinstalled apps. Such issues include user privacy and what apps are inappropriate and thus forbidden.

One provision states that users must be able to easily find the creator and function of each app, and whether it has any associated fees. Another says the smartphone maker must ensure that all apps can be easily uninstalled, and that users should be able to easily permanently delete their personal information from their phone if desired.

Such apps can provide extra income for smartphone makers since creators will often pay for automatic inclusion on new handsets. Users often complain that such preinstalled apps take up digital storage space, may invade their privacy, and are frequently difficult or impossible to uninstall.

The biggest losers from the new regulations will be those developers whose apps that were previously hard to delete may suddenly be uninstalled in large numbers, said Jin Di, a telecom analyst at IDC.

"This won't have a big impact on the smartphone makers. But it will have a bigger impact on application developers," she said. "Companies like Tencent and Alibaba are builders of applications, and they also do app distribution."

She added that the MIIT is acting now due to growing concerns about privacy protection, since China has far fewer laws on the subject than more-developed markets like the U.S. and Europe.

The new rules extend a previous campaign by the MIIT to control the number of unwanted apps that come included on smartphones. Three years ago, the ministry released rules limiting the number of such apps, and also requiring smartphone makers to list all apps that came preinstalled on their models either in service manuals or in easy-to-find places on their websites.

Contact reporter Yang Ge (geyang@caixin.com)

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