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China tech

China suspends three e-book platforms, citing 'obscene' content

Bytedance and Qutoutiao hit with three-month ban as Beijing expands crackdown

Midu Novels, Nasdaq-listed Qutoutiao's popular e-book app, was among those flagged over "obscene" content.

GUANGZHOU -- Chinese authorities have blocked three popular e-book apps from distributing new works over concerns about "harmful" content, expanding a media crackdown that has already ensnared the gaming industry.

Midu Novels, launched in May 2018 by Nasdaq-listed news app provider Qutoutiao, and Tomato Novel, released by TikTok operator Bytedance this past spring, were ordered to halt updates for the three months through Oct. 15. Jinjiang Literature City, which boasts more than 30 million users, was hit with a roughly two-week suspension through July 29.

A Communist Party arm charged with combating pornography and illegal publications demanded Monday that these companies implement strict oversight to prevent circulation of harmful works. But it failed to define what constitutes "harmful" content, raising speculation that content providers will resort to self-censorship.

Several books available on the apps have covers featuring women in revealing clothing or include content with sexual or gay themes. The authorities are believed to have been concerned that such works could be a bad influence on youth.

All three app operators issued statements by Tuesday saying they were temporarily halting updates to "provide a clean and proper online reading environment."

Users will still be able to access free books that have already been distributed, but some paid content will be unavailable for purchase.

The move follows a similar crackdown in the gaming industry. The government stopped approving new games entirely between March and December of last year and imposed tougher standards once reviews resumed.

Some companies are taking the initiative to avoid running afoul of authorities, given the lack of clear standards. This May, Tencent Holdings shut down the Chinese version of the popular but bloody battle royal game "PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds" and released a cleaned-up clone called "Game of Peace."

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