According to Chinese media outlets, including Shanghai-based Chinastarmarket.cn, Tencent Holdings has been barred from updating existing apps or launching any new ones as part of a “temporary administrative guideline” against the tech giant.
According to the report, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has instructed app stores and platforms to begin enforcing the order against Tencent apps on Wednesday, as part of a harsh administrative punishment against the tech giant, which operates dozens of apps, including the super app WeChat, which has 1.2 billion users.
Tencent responded in a statement that it is working with authorities to investigate its apps, implying that the report is true.
According to app tracking firm Qimai, there are more than 70 active Tencent apps and more than 100 active Tencent Mobile Games games.
It’s unclear how long the restriction will be in effect, and the Chinese ministry hasn’t released any information about it.
“We are continuously working to enhance user protection features within our apps, and also have regular cooperation with relevant government agencies to ensure regulatory compliance. Our apps remain functional and available for download,” Tencent said in its statement.
The move comes as Beijing continues to scrutinize the country’s tech sector. Beijing has been stepping up its attempts to govern data in the country, enacting the Cybersecurity Law in 2017 and the Data Security Law in September, both of which require companies to undergo a security assessment and receive authorisation before transmitting user data overseas.
In November, China passed the Personal Information Protection Law, one of the strongest personal data protection laws in the world, with far-reaching ramifications for cross-border data transfers and how businesses operate within the country.
In recent months, Tencent has experienced a slew of app update issues. New users were barred from joining up for WeChat in July while the app’s security infrastructure was modified to meet with legislative restrictions. In August, new sign-ups resumed.
As China’s harsh new data rules took effect in September, Tencent established a barrier between WeChat and its China-only version Weixin, asking users to select one or the other.
Analysts believe the move is part of Facebook’s effort to comply with the country’s increasingly severe data sovereignty and content censorship laws and regulations.
The ministry has been naming and shaming apps that it believes are breaking regulations or infringing on user rights on a daily basis. Tencent apps have been called and shamed by competitors such as Alibaba Group Holding and ByteDance, among others.
Tencent News, a Karaoke app, and QQ Music were included in a list of 38 apps called and shamed by the government on November 3 for gathering excessive amounts of user data.