The move to remove the popular UC Browser is the latest success story of Jack Ma, China’s most famous entrepreneur, after regulators sabotaged Ant Group’s record $ 37 billion public offering, Alibaba’s financial technology subsidiary. Ma has barely been seen in public since being removed from the list last November, as Xi tightens Beijing’s grip on the economy.
The move came a day after a Communist Party leadership meeting chaired by the president issued an unusually blunt warning to the country’s tech sector about its growing size and influence.
“Some platform companies are developing inappropriately and therefore bear risk. It is a considerable problem that the current regulatory regime has failed to adapt ”to the rise of these groups, the meeting minutes said.
Regulators will “step up” their efforts to improve the regulation of large Chinese Internet companies, the minutes added.
The Alibaba e-commerce group, which accounts for about a tenth of retail sales in the country, has been the main target of the crackdown.
The Communist Party is particularly concerned with the group’s media investments and its ability to influence public opinion. Officials have discussed forcing Alibaba to cede some of its media stakes, such as a minority stake in financial news provider Yicai Media Group and Weibo, the microblogging platform, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Alibaba also owns the South China Morning Post, the English-language newspaper based in Hong Kong.
The Wall Street Journal first reported that Beijing asked Alibaba to get rid of media assets.
The Chinese market regulator has also finalized rules for online transactions that will prohibit companies from entering into exclusive deals with traders to sell on their platforms rather than those of their rivals, a practice that is central to an antitrust investigation into Alibaba. The regulations will go into effect from May and will prohibit e-commerce platforms from penalizing merchants for selling on other sites.
“It’s a difficult practice to change. Merchants are always afraid of holding platforms of power, ”said Li Chengdong, head of Haiti, a think tank focused on technology. “If the government imposes a huge fine on Ali, and they admit their mistakes, maybe that will change.
The effort against UC Browser came after a program on public broadcaster CCTV targeted the tech industry during China Consumer Rights Day, an annual event in which the channel investigates alleged professional misconduct and documents the results during a prime-time broadcast.
This year’s program included a segment on deceptive online medical advertising.
UC Browser has been shown to allow private hospitals to bid for the names of well-known large hospitals in China in keyword searches, leading potential patients to their websites instead of the public hospitals they had. intend to visit.
Most of the Android app stores in China, including those operated by Chinese tech groups Huawei, Xiaomi and Tencent, have blocked downloads or removed the browser.
Withdrawing an app for a period of time is a common punishment in China for companies deemed to have broken the rules.
UCWeb, the Alibaba unit that manages the browser, has apologized for the illegal ads and pledged to strengthen oversight of the app.
Alibaba did not respond to a request for comment.
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