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Apple in Hot Seat as China Targets Livestreaming Porn

By Coco Feng
As of Thursday in China, Apple had yet to comment on a Beijing Cyberspace Administration summons the tech giant was issued two days earlier over its livestreaming apps. Photo: IC
As of Thursday in China, Apple had yet to comment on a Beijing Cyberspace Administration summons the tech giant was issued two days earlier over its livestreaming apps. Photo: IC

(Beijing) — An Internet supervisor’s rare decision to summon Apple Inc. representatives over livestreaming apps mirrors a broader fight against pornography in a fast-growing segment of China’s online entertainment industry.

As of Thursday in China, Apple had yet to comment on a Beijing Cyberspace Administration summons the tech giant was issued two days earlier.

Neither was it clear when regulators and company representatives might meet to discuss livestreaming apps downloadable from Apple’s App Store.

Apple is the first major app platform targeted by the government’s anti-porn initiative. Cyberspace officials Tuesday met representatives from app providers Toutiao, Huajiao and Huoshanzhibo to discuss online pornography, which is illegal in China.

The company representatives, whose apps are available on the Apple and Android platforms, were asked to bar livestreaming and videos posted by content providers containing provocative content. Both companies agreed to cooperate.

Livestreaming apps have become enormously popular in China, where high-speed and mobile Internet access has spawned a huge online culture. Livestreaming app users can socialize with attractive women and men, watch others play video games, hear a musical performance or attend a math class.

About 25 such apps were available in China six years ago, according to a report by the search engine Baidu. The number had grown to 116 as of July 2016, and many more of these apps are thought to be operating today.

The nation’s livestreaming app audience totaled about 344 million people, or 47% of all Internet users in China, at the end of 2016, according to a report by the China Internet Network Information Center.

Regulators argue this online niche has gotten increasingly unruly, with some livestream providers broadcasting erotic content. Such content usually attracts the highest number of viewers.

A young woman who recently livestreamed herself through the Huoshanzhibo app changing clothes at 3 a.m. resulted in app viewership quickly spiking, according to a broadcast news report Sunday on state-run CCTV.

The television report came two days before regulators told Huoshanzhibo and other app operators to clean up their content.

Apple was the only app platform cited in the cyberspace administrator’s latest statement, although China’s Android stores offer livestreaming apps as well.

Apple’s iPhone, the only smartphone that can access its China App Store, controls 11% share of the China market, according to market data tracker IDC.

Earlier this month, the central government’s Cyberspace Administration of China said it shuttered 18 livestreaming apps, mainly for violating the pornography ban.

However, a Caixin search Thursday found seven of these 18 apps still available for downloading from Apple’s China store. An Android store operated by Huawei was offering none of the banned apps, though, while another popular Android platform called Wandoujia offered one app.

Apple did not respond to a Caixin request for comment.

Livestreaming app providers Huoshanzhibo and Huajiao said on their official Weibo blogs that they will improve monitoring and crack down on provocative content.

Toutiao, a news aggregator that lets users post items and view livestreams, said that it had found and removed 204 accounts whose content providers posted erotic material in March.

“The livestreaming industry has just reached a nascent stage, and all operators have to tap into the legal gray areas to grab users’ attention,” said Wang Sixin, a professor at the Communication University of China who heads a research center on cyberlaw and intellectual property.

Last year, the government took steps to clean up the industry by ordering livestream platforms to verify the identity of every user by requiring personal information such as mobile phone numbers.

Contact reporter Coco Feng (renkefeng@caixin.com)

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