China’s Cyberspace Administration published a new set of rules on Wednesday targeting pop-up ads and push notifications. The draft, Provisions on the Administration of Internet Pop-up Information Push Services, addresses mobile apps, desktop software, websites and even operation systems, and asks any entity that pushes notifications to users to be responsible for its services. The regulations also give Beijing increased control over the spread of information in the digital era.
Within the new regulations, the strictest rules apply for notifications about news reporting. Any entity without the “internet news information service license” — a national license introduced in 2017 to gatekeep who can publish news online in China — is forbidden from sending out notifications about the news. Those with licenses are also limited to only citing news from a list of more than 1,300 mostly state-owned media outlets, in which some of China’s large, private-owned publications are excluded.
Chinese social media apps and news aggregator apps, from which Chinese people consume most of their news, are expected to be hit hard by the regulation. The provisions are “the obituary for [ByteDance],” Henry Gao, law professor at Singapore Management University, wrote on Twitter. One of ByteDance’s most popular domestic apps is Toutiao, a news-reader app that pushes notifications based on algorithms.
Other apps will be affected too, like mobile games that use frequent notifications to draw players back. The regulation asks service providers not to make algorithms that “encourage users to become addicted or over-spend” and not to “push notifications that may have a negative influence on the physical and mental health of minors.”
Following years of punishing apps for deceptive and annoying notifications, the draft regulation represents Beijing stepping up its administrative control on nascent online services that often aren’t covered in existing laws.
These regulations are sometimes celebrated by Chinese internet users, as they also address real quality-of-life problems in apps and software, such as the spamming of mobile app notifications. The new regulation requires service providers to clearly notify users of the frequency of notifications and the method to unsubscribe. It also asks advertisements to be clearly marked so that they won’t be mistaken as news.
The draft rules are seeking public comment until March 17.