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China's online crackdown hits brands

News, 23 February 2016

BEIJING: International app developers and tech brands are set to be affected, as China tightens restrictions on foreign-owned publishers in a crackdown on online content.

From March 10, China will ban all foreign publishers – even those operating in a local joint venture – from directly publishing content online in the country without prior permission from the Chinese government.

Though foreign media have long been unable to operate freely, the new rules will not only apply to text but also all digitally distributed books, video, pictures (including cartoons), music, maps, animations or games. The new rules will also cover all content related to arts, literature and science of "an informational or thoughtful nature".

The new decree will further complicate the operations of international media publications in China but will also have a significant impact on multinational brands operating in the market, many of whom are using local joint ventures.

As smartphone usage and demand for mobile-based content booms in the country, foreign companies operating in China's app space in particular are set for a bureaucratic headache if the rules are strictly enforced.

According to Forbes, companies among those set to be affected by the new rules include Apple, which sells hugely popular game apps on the Chinese version of AppStore. Microsoft also offers its Office platform in China via local joint venture partners, while Amazon has seen China emerge as an important market for Kindle, its e-book platform.

Publishers will also now only be allowed to operate via China-based servers which will be open to regular inspection by Chinese officials.

However, some companies are thinking outside the box. Facebook, which is banned in China, is believed to have recently updated its app platform to allow users to anonymize their location and bypass China's firewalls using online anonymity tool Tor, simply by accessing the settings function.

Data sourced from Forbes, New York Times, CNN; additional content by Warc staff