Apple is cracking down on illegal content in China after it removed potentially thousands of apps related to gambling.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. phone-maker purged as many as 25,000 apps — that’s a figure that was first cited by state-owned broadcaster CCTV [link in Chinese]. Apple didn’t comment on the number of apps removed, but it did confirm that it took action.
“Gambling apps are illegal and not allowed on the App Store in China. 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,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch.
Apple offers over 1.5 million apps in China. Greater China — which includes China, Hong Kong and Taiwan — is Apple’s third largest region based on business, grossing $9.6 billion in the most recent quarter. That’s around 18 percent of its total revenue.
The removals come weeks after a number of state-media reported criticism of Apple for failing to prevent issues such a spam, gambling, pornography and more concerning its business in Asia.
That criticism has been linked to the ongoing trade war between China and the U.S. — a spat that cost Qualcomm’s its $44 billion acquisition of NXP — but that may be wide of the mark. Apple is not alone in being rebuked by Beijing for content deemed unsuitable, a number of China’s up-and-coming startups have also had their wings clipped.
Earlier this year, ambitious new media firm ByteDance — which operates news and video apps and is currently talking to investors to raise $2.5-$3.5 billion — was ordered to shutter a parody app it operated in China. Additionally, four news and content apps were suspended from the App Store and Google Play for offending authorities. ByteDance responded by doubling its content moderation team and developing stronger systems for checking content.
“Content had appeared that did not accord with core socialist values and was not a good guide for public opinion. Over the past few years, we put more effort and resources toward expanding the business, and did not take enough measures to supervise our platform,” founder and CEO Zhang Yiming said in a statement that seemed designed to appease internet regulators.
Apple has, of course, taken criticism for kowtowing to Beijing by removing more than 50 VPN apps, which can be used to circumvent China’s internet censorship system, from the App Store. CEO Tim Cook has expressed his belief that the apps — and others removed by Apple in order to comply with Chinese law — will return, but it is difficult to envisage a scenario in which that happens.