Earlier this week, Apple removed over 100 generative AI and ChatGPT-related apps from its mainland Chinese store in response to new Chinese government regulations on managing generative AI. The regulations were introduced in draft form in April by seven government regulatory bodies, including the Cyberspace Administration of China, and are scheduled to go into effect on August 15. They require software developers to promote healthy content that “adheres to core socialist values” and to avoid offering products that generate false information or content that endangers national security. The new rules are the latest in a series of CAC regulations meant to exert more government control over the internet and related technologies. These regulations have focused on a number of areas, including generative AI, cyberbullying, independent content creators, and mobile phone use by minors.
Xinmei Shen of the South China Morning Post provided more detail on the types of apps that were deleted, and on Apple’s explanation for the deletions:
The apps were all pulled off the shelves from China’s iOS app store on Tuesday, according to data on Chinese mobile app analytics platform Qimai. Spark, an app developed by iFlyTek that provides ChatGPT-style services, was among the apps taken down even though it had a high-profile launch on June 29.
Spark reappeared in China’s iOS app store on Wednesday morning, after iFlytek said on an investor relations platform that the app had gone through an update.
Among the other apps pulled was the popular ChatGAi Plus, which provides chatbot, AI translation and writing services and was ranked 9th on the China iOS app store’s paid app chart before being removed on Tuesday afternoon, Qimai records show.
In a notification to developers, Apple said that it had removed the apps “because they include content that is illegal in China”, citing tighter regulations on deep synthesis technologies and generative AI, according to a screenshot shared by Zhenlu Zuo, a developer behind one of the removed AI apps OpenCat, on X – which was formerly called Twitter. [Source]
Tech blogger @foxshuo posted a screenshot of some of the deleted apps and noted that it appeared Apple had deleted them en masse in order to comply with the new regulations:
William Gallagher, writing for appleinsider.com, noted that this is not the first time that Apple has deleted apps from its China store in large numbers:
Apple has previously purged around 30,000 games from China’s App Store, then 94,000 more, and then 44,000 that China said did not have the correct licences. Now it’s targeted a much smaller number, but all in a significant category.
[…] Developers are also told that the content comes under what are described as tighter regulations on deep synthesis technologies and generative AI. Reportedly, the new regulations are due to take effect in China in two weeks’ time.
Apple has long been criticised for bowing to pressure from the Chinese authorities. Following its most recent purges of apps, Apple said it would provide more transparency on its reasons for App Store removals. [Source]
The developer of “OpenCat” confirmed that their product, a macOS and iOS native client using OpenAI API, is no longer available for download in China “due to policy issues.” They posted a screenshot (transcribed below) of the notification they received from Apple, and also noted that having their product removed from the China app store might reduce their revenue by as much as 90%.
We are writing to notify you that, pursuant to orders by the Chinese government, your app will be made unavailable on the China App Store because it includes content that is illegal in China. As you may know, the government has been tightening regulations associated with deep synthesis technologies (DST) and generative Al services, including ChatGPT. DST must fulfill permitting requirements to operate in China, including securing a license from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIT). Based on our review, your app is associated with ChatGPT, which does not have requisite permits to operate in China.
Although your app is unavailable in the China App Store, this will not change the availability of vour app in any other stores you selected in App Store Connect. To offer your app in China, please seek professional advice on compliance with the Administrative Provisions on Deep Synthesis of Internet-based Information Services.
Even if you have selected China as a salable storefront in App Store Connect, your app will still be made unavailable on the App Store in China. The TestFlight version of this app will also be unavailable for external and internal …
CDT Chinese editors have compiled some Chinese Twitter reactions on the recent app removals:
yueeu136：Just because there are 500 nicknames for Xi Jinping in ChatGPT.
blockzhain：Products that are “ingenious but impractical” don’t lend themselves easily to governance—it’s been like this for two or three years now.
Forget0002：Reason for deletion: [the deleted apps] didn’t incorporate “Xi Jinping Thought.”
STUI_ART：This will greatly impact innovation.
dejavuwl： This is proof positive that even a store as big as Apple can’t get around government policy. It shows you what the ecosystem for private enterprise is like.
xilingD5：Apple has always been good at kneeling down and sucking up to the CCP. Back in the iPhone 7 era, you could still probably find some VPN apps in the Chinese Apple Store, but now they’re long gone. [Chinese]