By：Mark Schaub Iris Feng
Education APPs, in particular those targeted at children, are very popular in the education sector in China in recent years. Despite combining the sensitive areas of telecoms and education, the education APPs remained largely unregulated. This started to change in August 2019.
In the past few months, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has issued regulations to launch a filing regime for education APPs. The main regulations include the Opinion on Guiding and Regulating the Development of Educational Mobile Internet Apps (the “APPs Opinion”) on 15 August 2019 and the Administrative Measures for the Filing of Education Apps (the “APPs Filing Measures”) issued on 11 November 2019.
What are Education APPs?
The definition of “Educational Mobile Internet Apps” (the “Education APPs”) under both the APPs Opinion and APPS Filing Measures is very broad. It covers all mobile applications used by teachers, students and parents in educational and learning scenarios for the purpose of teaching and management, learning, home-school interaction and other related activities.
How and when to make a filing?
In a nutshell, providers and institutional users are both required to make filings. Institutional users refer to institutions like schools that use Education APPs but does not extend to public users. Filings are to be made online with the provincial authorities. The filing requires detailed information including ICP filing, developers, platforms and functions, etc.
The Education Apps filing is conditional upon completion of the ICP filing and the level protection filing required under the China Cybersecurity Law. In our opinion it is not realistic for Education Apps providers and users to obtain all these filings in the required subsequence by 31 January 2020 which is the deadline set by the authorities.
The notice accompanying the APPs Filing Measures issued by the MOE provides a grace period of 2 months, during which the ICP filing and the level protection filing can be exempted as requisite conditions. However, all need to be completed by 31 January 2020.
Implications for offshore education APPs
The regulations are primarily targeting PRC domestic Apps. Implications for offshore education Apps (i.e. Apps which are launched offshore but still accessible by Chinese users) are unclear at the current stage.
On the one hand, the definition of the Education Apps is very broad, and the possibility that it is interpreted to cover offshore education APPs available to Chinese users cannot be totally ruled out. On the other hand, it is not possible for offshore providers of such education APPs operating via a purely offshore model to obtain the ICP filing and level protection filing and make the filings as required under the new regulations. In other words, in practice, offshore education APPs providers will not practically be able to complete such filings even if they are required to do so. Indeed on the Q&A section of the filing website of the SOE (http://app.eduyun.cn) it is stated that according to the requirements of MIIT, the server must be placed in China if services are provided in China. If an offshore entity does not have a server in China then the server must be relocated to China and the APP filing can be made after the completion of ICP filing and level protection filing. Accordingly for education APPs operated offshore the regulations should not be an issue of immediate concern, but it does illustrate a general trend in China to more closely regulate education in all forms and to collect more information in respect of APPs for child education.