Beijing demands government apps must shed their bureaucratic skins

Its hard to disagree with a mandate to make government digital services fit for people, not box-tickers

Beijing's internet regulator, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), has decided government digital services and apps need to become less bureaucratic and formal.

In a Monday notice, the Administration proclaimed it would strengthen supervision and standardization of government digital services to cure a syndrome that machine translation renders as "formalism at the fingertips" – the imposition of bureaucratic processes in citizen-facing apps.

The Administration has called for government departments and agencies to review their wares and make timely corrections.

And in case that hint doesn't encourage behavior change, the CAC will conduct random inspections and assessments, then suggest rectifications and accountability measures for transgressing entities.

Within its plans are intentions to remove overlapping functionality on apps. This might mean embedding would-be duplicate functions into existing government applications as a module, or accomplishing tasks through collaborations with other projects. The CAC will also determine if data management and sharing requirements are met within projects.

Beijing asserted that it wants a "user-centered approach," meaning users don't need multiple logins, and can instead use a one-stop platform. Government apps should use a government cloud and central authentication services hosted there.

Applications with low-frequency use and minimal practicality "should be shut down and cancelled," ordered the regulator. It added it would monitor the number of public accounts opened.

The CAC will also disallow the use of apps as worker evaluation tools.

The regulator reserved a one-to-two-year period to establish mechanisms towards the goal – including "overall management, review and filing, evaluation feedback, clean-up and exit."

The CAC has given itself three to five years to improve regulatory measures and beef up its oversight.

While such orders to do better are not rare in China, in recent years most have been directed at crimping crime, or making sure the country's web giants prevent the spread of content the Communist Party doesn't like.

For instance, last month the CAC punished Alibaba-owned search engine Quark for enabling content it deemed "dirty dancing," and livestreaming platform NetEase for other content it deemed vulgar. ®

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